Anti-terrorism officers heighten nervousness on light rail

It’s a pretty safe bet that when Minnesota’s Department of Homeland Security was created, it wasn’t to check to be sure that people riding the Green Line had purchased tickets.

We know that because the department’s website tells us so:

The mission of the Homeland Security branch is to lead the unified state effort to keep Minnesota secure and prevent acts of terrorism. Staff members help public and private partners determine key community assets and prioritize how to protect them.

So what was really going on on the Green Line today?

Far from bringing a sense of security, the officers appear to have caused some discomfort for passengers.

A reporter for the Star Tribune says the Homeland Security police told passengers it wasn’t an immigration raid, they were just checking tickets.

Why would anyone think it was a raid?

Because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has Minneapolis and Hennepin County in its sights.

But it’s not entirely new. Homeland Security officers have been spotted on the Green Line periodically since it opened. But, of course, these are different, more nervous times now and the intimidation factor is heightened.

A Metro Transit spokesperson tells MPR’s Martin Moylan the officers were being familiarized with transit operations and were part of the Transportation Security Administration’s VIPR team — Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response — whose mission is to “prevent and deter acts of terrorism against U.S. transportation systems.”

  • Dan

    “Excuse me, officer. Do you think I could borrow a zip tie?”

    • Noelle

      The zip ties in the photos made me feel surprisingly more uncomfortable than the guns at their waists.

      • Dan

        Yeah, I mean, it’s great to be prepared and everything, but exactly how many people are you expecting to tie up at once today?

  • MrE85

    I think Metro Transit is going to have to rethink this “longstanding policy.” At very least, the optics are terrible.

    • It does speak to the changing nature of the optics, though. People see the authorities as something other than a comfort now. With the militarization of police, the optics of an occupying force was bound to be an end result.

      • MrE85

        You’re right. The last time this happened, I doubt if many people even noticed the Homeland cops. Add the high number of immigrants and refugees who ride the trains, plus today’s attack in London, and you have a guarantee that some riders would be freaked out.

        • Before our current Cheeto-in-Chief flexed his mighty EO, it would’ve been very understandable of Homeland Security wanting to become familiar with transit systems vis-a-vis terrorist threats.

          Now, however … ulp.

    • John O.

      I ride the Green Line almost daily and it would be nice if a couple of uniformed officers would spot-check LRTs by boarding at one station and exiting at another.

      It would also help tremendously to find a way to limit platform access only to those who have actually paid or scanned their pass.

      • MrE85

        I know some folks at MT. I’ll pass that along.

      • The NYC subway system, with its gates and barriers, has about the same level of fare non-payment as does our ungated LRT – ~10%.

      • Phil

        I don’t think I’ve encountered it on the Green Line (which I ride less often), but it’s definitely a regular thing on the Blue Line and I’ve been checked on the A Line, so I would assume the Green’s no different.

      • From what I’ve seen when I have had my Metropass checked, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what the Metro Transit cops do is board at one station and get off at the next one, presuming they’ve had enough time to check everyone on the train car between stops.

        Problem with limiting platform access is you also run the risk of making it inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair or who otherwise might have mobility challenges. I don’t know how they deal with that on NYC’s subways, but as a regular rider of the Green Line, I know it would present challenges at some of those stations.

      • ShellyM

        I ride the LRT regularly, if not daily, and the only time I can recall *not* having transit police come through and check my ticket is the first time I rode.

      • John

        Unfortunately, the stations are so poorly design that one must go way to the center of the station to buy a ticket. I have missed many a train trying to get the money in the machine and figure out how to make a ticket pop out. Why were ticket machines not put at the entrance to the station? There are usually two, both near the center. People who design these systems should be required to use them, and not with a Pass. By the way, are these Homeland Security people state or federal? Do they buy tickets to ride or are they free loaders? This does not make me feel secure and I’m a 4th generate while of European ancestry. Why are these “Security Officers” not looking into the many bomb trains racing thru the City each day? Now there is a huge security threat to the Twin City Area. Yes, this is a police state and they are doing it with our money!

  • Mike Worcester

    And what would have happened had someone refused to show the Homeland Security officer their ticket? (Presuming they would have agreed to show Metro Transit officers the ticket.)

    • John O.

      I was on one of those Green Line trains once when the DHS officers were checking my pass and everyone else’s status. I wasn’t going to find out what their response would be by refusing to show my MetroPass.

      • Mike Worcester

        Precisely my point. Last time I checked, it was Metro Transit that was to ensure ticketed riders, not Homeland Security. I certainly would not fault anyone for doing exactly as you did. I would have also though in my head I definitely would have been thinking “the heck?”

  • KTFoley

    Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response — what does that even mean? “We’re not here to raid you today; we’re just here to make sure you know we’re here. Maybe we’ll raid you tomorrow.”

    • KTFoley

      Speaking of optics and intermodal, it occurs to me now that VIPR is likely treated as an acronym … and pronounced with long “i”.

  • John O.

    Several months ago (during the Obama administration), five DHS officers boarded the westbound Green Line train I was on at Rice Street. Everyone was checked for a paid ticket (or valid pass). They were carrying automatic weapons in addition to side arms.
    And yes, they had the same “Department of Homeland Security” uniforms on.

  • Gary F

    Why doesn’t the Metro Transit Police check for payment?

    • they do

    • MrE85

      They do. They are the usual enforcers.

    • John O.

      The way our light rail system is currently set up presents some unique challenges.

      On any bus, the bus driver checks to see if you have paid the fare or scanned your pass and won’t move until things are resolved to his or her satisfaction. LRT is (more or less) on the “honor system” because the operator is locked in the cab of the first car and doesn’t check anyone coming on or off at each stop.

      As I stated elsewhere, I would not mind seeing platform access limited to paying customers only.

      • Kassie

        My understanding is bus protocol is to ask someone who walks past and doesn’t pay one time to pay. If they don’t pay, they keep moving. My buses sometimes have people who don’t pay on them, just like light rail. When I’ve been on the bus with light rail checks, almost everyone has paid, just like on the bus.

        • John O.

          Right, but the presence of a Metro Transit bus driver is going to make some think twice. LRT? Not so much.

          • >>As I stated elsewhere, I would not mind seeing platform access limited to paying customers only.<<

            As mentioned before, the scofflaws are about the same here as in the NYC subway (and pretty much everywhere else).

            The main problem is one of diminishing returns – How much should Metro Transit spend to try to get that extra income and will it actually cost more to enforce rather than just live with the fact that there will always be fare jumpers.

          • John O.

            I get that. I’m tired and frustrated of the daily unchecked bad behavior.

          • I understand that as well, but as others have stated here, the Transit Cops seem to check tickets on a regular basis. I see them all the time when I ride.

            As an aside, when traveling in Europe, I noted that quite a few public transportation options are not really “locked down” and rely on the honor system.

    • I’ve been checked for payment while riding the light rail. Metro Transit cops ask for you to show your ticket or in my case, your Metropass/Go-To card, which they can then scan to confirm you paid for your ride.

      • I cop to always buying the senior fare. I’ll just claim ignorance.

    • ShellyM

      It does, all the time. Glad I could help.

  • chlost

    Beginning to know what it feels like to live in a police state.

  • Paulinstpaul

    Thanks for covering this, Bob. Mine is the third Twitter pic you used in your story. This felt much different than the normal Metro Transit cops checking fares. There was a single Metro Transit cop accompanying these guys, but it seemed pretty clear that he wasn’t in charge.

  • frostbitten_1

    I saw them handcuffing a young woman in St. Paul at the first station on the line at 7:00AM this morning. When she asked why an officer said “because we don’t know who you are?” Does not sound like they were worried about fare jumping to me.

    • tboom

      “Because we don’t know who you are.”?????
      Handcuffs?????

      A random sweep through a train, looks and sounds like a police state. I though our Bill of Rights was better than this.

  • Will

    Maybe there was info about a potential terror attack today, in light of the attack in London I welcome more security. My thoughts and prayers go out to families and victims of that attack.

    • Today’s stuff happened before London.

      • Will

        Do we know if there was a specific or general threat against Western nations leading up to today? Were communications between terrorist groups increased earlier this week and maybe this was a precautionary​ measure.

        • Since DHS has been on trains before, I doubt there was a specific threat. And not sure what checking tickets does to alleviate that threat, anyway. Nobody reported they were searching under seats etc.

  • kotz

    This looks totally contrary to Metro Transit Police’s own website, which states regarding DHS:

    “Metro Transit police officers checking fares on the our vehicles have a routine: They board, announce tickets will be checked then go through the process from one end of the train to the other ensuring all passengers have paid their fares. On occasion, they will have officers from other agencies in tow.”

    “In the Twin Cities Metro Area, the [DHS] team works in conjunction with Metro Transit police officers and does no transit enforcement on its own.”

    https://www.metrotransit.org/why-are-metro-transit-officers-occasionally-accompanied-by-dhs-officers

  • AmiSchwab

    kelly’s heroes are getting a little over zealous i think. shake down is what comes to mind. minnesota don’t be intimidated by trump and his henchmen.

  • ironkitten

    And they are not “police”. They shouldn’t be allowed to wear that deceptive vest if they are federal officers.

  • D.Robot

    The green line isn’t a key asset to protect against terrorism?
    Getting Feds familiar with the green line before next year’s Super Bowl doesn’t seem like a thing that would make sense?

    • Sure it does. How does ticket checking accomplish that?

      • D.Robot

        I could guess that it’s a generic law and order thing to do and give them reason to figure out if people are there for legitatimate or nefarious reasons. The people who swipe iPhones or purses and then jump off the light rail before the doors close at a station, do they typically buy tickets or fare jump? I could guess that they don’t buy tix.
        Pre 9-11 I was in Paris with a friend and his roommate. Accosted by armed police/military at train station, asked to see ID… Lots of time spent on the ID of the non white one of us, radioed their info to check on them…This is a reality of antiterrorism security that I have experienced, but not yet in USA. Checking tix seems like a less questionable way of assessing individual motivations than just asking everyone for ID and checking them against some database.

    • Mark_in_MN

      Are Metro Transit police and other local police and sheriff’s departments incapable of doing that?

      • D.Robot

        I’m sure they’d say that the Feds have special expertise and resources for anti terrorism work. In my opinion, the recent review of the wetterling investigation showed the FBI to be about as out of their depth as local law enforcement…. Though I’d have expected them to do better.

    • Ralphy

      Is the Green Line any more of an inviting target for terrorists than the morning express bus coming to Minneapolis from Lakeville? Than a crowded restaurant or grocery store? Than a crowd waiting to get through arena security before being allowed to enter?

      Does handcuffing and detaining a young lady because she didn’t have her ID make us safer? (BTW – one is not required by law to carry or produce an ID when using public transportation.)

      • D.Robot

        My thoughts are: (during the Super Bowl): yes, yes, and maybe about equal, but the rail line also could be means for reaching that crowd outside the arena.

        Final question I find difficult to take seriously and would be good to ask our law enforcement community about.

  • Ralphy

    This sure looks and smells like the Feds were fishing for and sending a message to undocumented persons.
    Can’t think of any other legitimate reason DHS would have a show of force on local public transit.

    • D.Robot

      Not anti terrorism prep for the upcoming world attention spotlight known as the Super Bowl? You know, the tasty carrot end of the “carrot or stick” deal that the NFL and Vikings made with the state of MN?

      • Ralphy

        At a jillion dollars per ticket, I’m guessing that the demographics of a Super Bowl ticket holder and a light rail rider do not pair well. I’d bet one could count on three fingers the number of Super Bowl ticket holders that will be riding the light rail to the game.

        If there was to be a terrorist attack during that time, there are probably a thousand targets that are essentially indefensible. Realistically we have two choices – to live on the edge of fear with a false sense of security brought on by a police state or keep calm and carry on.

        • D.Robot

          I think the obvious point of focus is around the stadium. I believe green line goes right by it. I agree with the idea of keeping calm and carrying on, but imagine that Authorities likeDHS would always be out there in both high and low profile looking for whatever kinds of threats or disturbances…as I imagine this to be their job

  • Alan_Muller

    This story is a deterrent to us riding light rail. Ugly symbols of police-state behavior are not what I want to see if avoidable.

  • KIMD65

    I called Metro Transit. Apparently to the woman getting pulled and “an officer said “because we don’t know who you are?” The woman stated-parpharsing: Homeland Security aren’t the metro police and just can’t pull someone off the train -even if they don’t pay… probably had a warrant for something else (there is more to the story.)

    Metro Transit- has a list of people (i think including videos) of people that don’t pay. When someone on that list has something more than Homeland would be involved.

    Homeland routinely works with local cops during events and other items – like the “world we live in now” and “gearing up for the superbowl”.

    However they are never involved with immigration. Never she reenstated many times.

    I stated- but when ppl over heard “because we don’t know who you are?” It rightously makes everyone nervous. She agreed.

    I stated (from a comment on NPR) train riders are mainly low income and people of color so it makes people nervous because of the times we are in – that other “white” folks can know feel they can take matters into their own hands because of the President now and the stupid things he has done and said….

    I did state I wasn’t on the train but friends are that tweeted concerns and from NPR article. But I needed to called and resigrated my complaint.

    She had others calling and thanked me for calling in.