Railroad Officers Have Police Powers, Little Oversight Despite Complaints


Police forces run by the nation's railroads have the power to make arrests, issue warrants and perform undercover work. The New York Times says railroad police officers, licensed by states, have been accused of physical assaults, racial profiling and harassment of railroad employees. While police departments face increasing scrutiny and demand for reform after several cases of brutality, the railroad authorities appear to operate with near impunity. “There needs to be better oversight of these corporate police forces, because right now it is sorely lacking,” said Wyoming state Rep. Lloyd Larsen. Wyhoming and Minnesota are the only two states that do not allow the railroad police to have law enforcement authority; Minnesota is the other.

Since 2009, the railroad police have arrested more than 300 residents in Overtown, a predominantly black neighborhood in Miami, on charges of trespassing. Nearly 90 percent of those charges have been dismissed.In Oklahoma in 2010, a Union Pacific railroad police officer was captured on video choking a woman he accused of trespassing and resisting arrest. A local court dropped the charges against the woman and she settled a lawsuit with the company earlier this year. Of the eight largest private railroads that were contacted by the Times, only two — Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific — would provide crime statistics. They gave information only on arrests on railroad property, not on complaints or disciplinary actions against their police officers.

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