Clevelanders for Public Transit will host a rally Tuesday morning calling on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to cut funding to its police force. Echoing local and nationwide calls to defund and restructure police departments, CPT will ask RTA to reduce its transit police funding by half and redirect those dollars to fare reduction and the restoration of routes that have been cut in recent years.
The rally will meet at 8:15 a.m. outside RTA's W. 6th headquarters before the agency's regularly scheduled 9 a.m. board meeting.
In Cleveland, the city's division of police is by far the largest law enforcement agency, but several others operate with more limited jurisdictions. These include RTA's transit police, the CMHA police, the Metroparks rangers and the Cleveland Clinic police, not to mention the cornucopia of cops out in University Circle, which include squadrons from University Circle itself (the "UCPD"), Case Western Reserve University, and University Hospitals.
RTA's Transit Police was created in 1977, shortly after the agency's founding in 1974, and its mission is all about providing "a safe and orderly transit environment." But transit police officers spend most of their time writing fare evasion tickets. Or at least they did in 2017, when officers told Scene that they believed law enforcement at RTA had been reduced to a crude form of revenue generation. (RTA was making $25 a pop for first-time fare evaders, and officers were required to write 10 citations per shift.) Later that year, local judge Emanuella Groves ruled that having armed RTA police enforcing fares was unconstitutional.
In 2010, the ACLU found that RTA's fare enforcement mechanism (armed officers on the Red Line and HealthLine) disproportionately affected Black riders. The $25 fee was in fact implemented to prevent needless interactions with the criminal justice system, though fare evasion remains a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
Late last year, Cleveland Councilman Kerry McCormack said he had drafted a bill to decriminalize fare evasion. Council lawyers were reportedly checking on a few details, but McCormack's stated goal was to make penalties for fare evasion effectively the same as penalties for parking violations.
Though ridership has steadily declined in recent years, RTA's police presence has increased. The agency now has 128 full-time officers on its payroll, plus at least 20 part-time officers and additional staff, making it the fourth-largest law enforcement agency in Cuyahoga County. RTA spends upwards of $14 million each year on the transit police.
CPT believes that these "limited resources would be better used to fund service and reduce the cost of fares."
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Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...