Demonstrators call on Cleveland RTA to reduce police budget to lower fares

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – A rally was held Tuesday morning outside the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority headquarters.

Clevelanders for Public Transit were calling on RTA to reduce fares by reallocating 50% of the budget used for RTA Police.

RTA employs 128 full-time officers, 20 part-time officers, 9 dispatchers, and 8 professional support employees, according to the RTA website. RTA says the officers are in place for safety and security.

Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT) say RTA’s armed officers conduct fare inspection, and that it can often result in the possibility of a criminal record over a $2.50 fare.

RTA released the following statement:

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA)  welcomes questions about how taxpayer dollars are being spent, but we also want everyone to have the facts about our police.

RTA Transit Police work across municipal jurisdictions in order to provide security and safety for the transit service in Cuyahoga County.  Transit Police is specifically focused on our community’s transit function and trained to respond to the unique challenges that may arise in bus, paratransit, and rail services. Transit Police protect passengers, employees and property, including RTA’s railroad and rail yards, and assist safety partners throughout every community where our customers travel.  Transit Police is an essential service supporting transit security and safety. 

RTA police respond to a myriad of safety and security related issues. Transit Police:

Stop crimes, such as operator assaults, robberies, and other crimes.
Support our Safe Space program on all RTA property, which helps children in need.
Support regional partners in the fight against human trafficking.
Work with local agencies serving the homeless to get them the help they need.
Operate Cuyahoga County’s largest K-9 unit. Our eight K-9 teams also assist Greater Cleveland communities that don’t have dedicated explosive detection teams, including many schools, as well as regularly patrolling our stations, buses and trains.
RTA was the first rail system in the country to provide service directly into an airport.  As a result, Transit Police work in close collaboration with the Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to assure the safety of our customers and community.
Serve as a member of the City and County Emergency Operations Centers, where we work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to respond to local, state, and national emergencies.

Fare Enforcement

Fare enforcement is a small part of RTA policing functions.  In fact, thus far in 2020, our Transit Police wrote
only 50 citations for fare evasions. On an annual basis, that’s trending down from 129 citations in 2019 – and way down from 2018’s 259 citations.

As we look at continuous improvement across the entire RTA, we have also looked at improvements in the police function.

Transit Police Reforms and Improvements

Transit Police is studying reforms and improvements. Our use of force policy already prohibited choke holds.  We’re adding even stronger guidance concerning neck restraints, requiring that suspects be moved from a prone position to a sitting position as soon as possible if handcuffing is required. We are identifying additional de-escalation and racial bias/sensitivity training for officers. And, while our buses, trains and other property already are equipped with cameras we’re planning to equip all our officers with body cameras to help further increase safety and accountability.

Safety Statistics

Ultimately, of course, our Transit Police have one primary goal: to keep our riders safe, and statistics show the proof.Crime is down about 65% on an annual basis from 2012 through 2019.
According to our 2018 MetroHealth Line survey of riders, 93% strongly agreed or agreed that they felt safe riding and waiting for the bus.
The Cleveland State University Line 2019 survey showed 98% of riders felt safe riding or waiting for the bus.
The 2019 Light Rail survey showed 91% of riders felt safe. In fact, in that Light Rail rider survey, the most frequent comment related to safety was a request for more police on trains and at stations.

Fares and Service

Lastly, we are reviewing a recent fare equity and a system redesign study – both which were executed with in-person or on-line feedback from hundreds of riders and non-riders alike. Based on the data we have gathered, we are addressing questions about the most equitable fares to charge and the best service to provide and we are reviewing how to implement solutions. 

Again, we welcome questions about how we spend money and marshal resources. Our answers will always be built around making our riders and the people of the communities we serve safe.

According to the 2020 RTA budget,

$14,356,000 is spent on the police department.

CPT is also asking RTA to stop pursuing criminal measures against riders who cannot pay the fare.

Read more from CPT in the post below.

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