Homeless conundrum greets new Transit chief

Metro Transit Police is Minneapolis Police Inspector Eddie Frizell

As Minnesota’s transit system grows, so does the Metro Transit Police. The new chief of the growing — and increasingly scrutinized — Metro Transit Police is Minneapolis Police Inspector Eddie Frizell. 

Frizell, who has a 26-year career with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), takes over the Metro Transit Police, one of the fastest-growing agencies in the state, at a crucial time. 

The light rail, which has been steadily expanding since construction first began on the original Blue Line in 2001, has been a convenient boon for people making their way around the Twin Cities. It has also provided shelter and warmth to homeless people in the middle of the night.

Last winter, which broke records for low temperatures and snowfall, the light rail was the last refuge for the Twin Cities’ most vulnerable residents. The Metro Transit instructed its police to stop kicking people off the train and do “more to help individuals seeking shelter on transit.”

A Metro Transit statement last December, in the throes of winter, said transit police were equipped with federally-funded rental assistance program vouchers for homeless riders. Still, the transit authorities, responding to customer complaints that homeless people caused crime and smelled bad, decided to shut off service of its Green Line from two to four in the morning, forcing homeless riders out into the elements.

The homeless conundrum is far from resolved. Frizell, as chief, will be in a position to dictate the transit authority’s approach. 

The Met Council, after considering a pool of candidates that included Metro Transit’s interim chief A.J. Olson, announced Frizell as the new Metro Transit boss July 12. While part of the MPD, the Iowa native spent time as deputy chief of police, a SWAT negotiator, an internal affairs investigator, and inspector of the Fifth Precinct in South Minneapolis. 

He’ll be in charge of the growing, 24-hour police force. The department has 180 full- and part-time officers and counting; the Southwest Light Rail Transit project is expected to begin service in 2023, requiring more police hirings. 

Frizell will become the department’s eighth chief starting Aug. 5. He replaces John Harrington, who stepped down to become the new commissioner of public safety in Governor Tim Walz’s administration. 

“I look forward to leading the group of law enforcement professionals at the Metro Transit Police Department as we continue to serve our region with respect, professionalism, and a commitment to guardianship for our riders, employees and the communities throughout our transit system,” Frizell said in a Met Council statement.