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Former Police Chief Brings Expertise to Transit

Former St. Paul police chief and Minnesota state senator John Harrington was recently named to serve as the new chief of police at Metro Transit, replacing retiring chief Dave Indrehus.

"I'm a cop at heart and had wanted to return to being a peace officer when several Metro Transit police officers encouraged me to apply," Harrington says. "I knew the department from my own experience serving there for over 10 years as a part-timer back in the 90's and through partnerships we did after I became the chief of St. Paul police. Transit is growing in the Twin Cities and I want to ensure customers, employees and the communities they come from all feel safe as they continue to increasingly choose buses and trains as the preferred way to get around our communities."

Harrington's tenure as chief of the St. Paul Police Department lasted from 2004 to 2010, and he believes the experience will be beneficial in his new position. "I am very grateful to have the opportunity to get back into police work," says Harrington. "As an old beat cop who cut his teeth on problem solving…I see Metro Transit as the perfect place to blend the strengths of neighborhood-oriented policing with the rapid response and homeland security of predictive policing.

"I believe that a key aspect of policing is partnerships with other agencies, communities and the private sector," Harrington continues. "We had great success using this model in St. Paul to make our department more effective. Even though the Metro Transit Police Department has fewer personnel than the St. Paul Police Department, the jurisdiction is huge, including eight metro counties where our buses and trains run. Developing and maintaining strong partnerships to conduct problem solving will continue to be critical to safe and secure transit."

Harrington also served the Metro Transit Police for 12 years during the 1980s and 1990s in a number of capacities, from patrolling on buses to administrative work to serving as captain. "At the time, Metro Transit relied on part-time law enforcement officers from metro-area municipalities," says Harrington. "Today, the Metro Transit Police Department has about 69 full-time officers and 55 part-time officers who ride along on buses and trains, patrol transit routes and waiting areas, and inspect fares on light rail and commuter trains. So it's kind of a homecoming to be returning to transit police now as chief."

Continued Use of Technological Advances

Metro Transit has been active in the use of technology for customer comfort, safety and convenience, from cameras on all buses and trains to smart fare cards. In his new role, Harrington plans to continue embracing technology's contributions to Metro Transit and transit security in general.

"Metro Transit police have many tools to assist investigations and police work now," says Harrington. "In fact, the advent of St. Paul's Safe City Program, which brought 200 CCTV cameras to the capital city, started with a partnership between Metro Transit and Target Corporation along the central corridor also known as the Green Line, now under construction. In addition, I'm a big fan of chief Bill Bratton's CompStat and predictive policing models, both of which are very dependent on timely and accurate information. So a robust computer network that links my officers with the eight counties and hundreds of local police agencies is a must. I'm looking forward to continuing that tradition of technology leadership in the future."

From Law-Making Back to Law Enforcement

In taking on the position at Metro Transit, Harrington resigned from his seat in the Minnesota State Senate. Though he is more at home enforcing laws rather than making them, he hopes his past experience as a state senator, which included helping to pass the Bedard law, will also aid him in his new position.

"My election to the Minnesota State Senate was an honor for me and it was a privilege to serve my neighborhood and my city," Harrington says. "I recognize that my election was exceptional, as until 2010 there had only been one other African-American ever so honored. I am told that I was one of the more outspoken - and perhaps in part because of that - I was one of the more successful freshman senators that came into office in 2010. Despite my success, I never felt that I was as productive as I had been as chief of police. In the legislature, you identify problems and hope that if you can get your ideas heard you might be able to get action. I also felt frustrated at the partisan bickering that has become the norm in elected politics and missed the camaraderie and civility of police work.

"I hope that the friendship and knowledge of the state senate and legislature will serve this agency well, as there will be challenges that Metro Transit police in particular and police in general will face in the coming years," Harrington adds. "I hope that I am able to parlay my background into being a leader for Metro Transit and for police all over Minnesota." 

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