POLITICS

White Transit Riders Get Warnings, Black People Get Tickets

Minneapolis-St. Paul transit police are especially hard on American Indians.

WASHINGTON -- Black adults are 26 percent more likely than whites to get a ticket instead of a warning the first time they're caught not paying public transit fares in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, according to a report released last week by the Metro Transit Police Department. The disparity is greater for American Indians, who are 152 percent more likely than whites to be written up.

Metro Transit's research team looked at 7,136 arrests and citations for gross misdemeanors and below from January 2014 to August 2015, on rail and bus lines. Minorities also were more likely than whites to be arrested by Metro Transit police for all crimes, including felonies. The analysis found no significant differences between rates of warnings, citations, or arrests across racial groups for the most serious incidents. 

Officers randomly check rail passengers to make sure they have paid their fares, and the fine for a violation is $180. A light rail ticket costs $1.75 to $2.25, depending on whether it's rush hour.

Local police have faced national scrutiny over their treatment of minorities in recent months. In July, cell phone video surfaced showing an officer violently arresting a black man for not paying a light rail fare. In August, a Metro Transit officer tackled a teenager who has an autism disorder at a station. And on Nov. 15, Minneapolis police shot an unarmed black man to death, leading to protests. (The officer who was involved with the teenager no longer works for the department, and other officers have received training on working with individuals who have autism, a Metro Transit spokesman said.)

Black adults are 38 percent more likely to be arrested than to be warned, compared with whites, according to the analysis, which was requested by the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year. American Indians are 93 percent more likely to be arrested, the report found.

"This study tells me that we have a problem," Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said in a statement.

About half of transit users are white, about one-fourth are black, and 3 percent are American Indian. The data shows some "statistically significant differences" in cops being more likely to arrest or cite someone rather than give a warning based on race, but the "full circumstances" of incidents that were counted may not be fully accounted for, the report says. 

The analysis found no significant differences between rates of warnings, citations, or arrests across racial groups for the most serious incidents. 

Metro Transit police said they plan to talk with the NAACP of Minneapolis about policy changes and training for officers to be "fair and impartial." Earlier this month, Harrington directed officers to issue a warning to first-time fare violators.

This article has been updated to note that the report found no significant differences across racial groups for the most serious incidents, and to note that officers have received training on dealing with people who have autism. 

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