Prosecutors Will Stop Pursuing Charges Against Most TriMet Fare Evaders

Aimee Green, The Oregonian, January 4, 2017

The district attorneys for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties announced Tuesday that they will drastically cut back prosecutions of people who evade paying TriMet fares.

The prosecutors said the move is in response to a Portland State University study in December and their own research that found African American riders caught riding MAX trains without paying faced bans from TriMet at a noticeably higher rate than white riders.

Fare evaders who are criminally prosecuted have frequently been charged with interfering with public transportation, which is classified as a misdemeanor under state law. Prosecutors say they plan to stop pursuing criminal charges against hundreds of fare evaders caught annually—except in extreme cases or cases of chronic offenders.

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Fare evaders could be ticketed and fined administratively by TriMet, they said. {snip}

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On top of concerns about the racial disparity, prosecutors said the policy change also was prompted by concerns that prosecuting fare cheats in the criminal justice system is too heavy-handed. Fare evaders can be handcuffed, arrested and brought to jail even though—at least in Multnomah County—they often see their cases downgraded to violations, similar to a traffic ticket.

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The PSU study found that African American riders were more likely to be banned from riding TriMet when police—opposed to the TriMet inspectors—were involved.

The disparate treatment was small but noticeable: A difference of about 152 encounters out of 5,900 exclusions over the past two years made the number statistically significant.

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