TransLink’s Transit Police are under renewed criticism after a report for the Edmonton Police Service warned the Metro Vancouver transit security model is one that should not be emulated.
The report by Edmonton Police Acting Supt. Garry Meads flags jurisdictional overlaps between Transit Police – who act as a supplemental service with full policing powers mainly along SkyTrain lines – and the local police or RCMP who do have specific geographical responsibilities.
“This type of arrangement has resulted in much confusion and inefficiencies,” Meads said in the April 2011 report, adding he was told the model will likely never be repeated in B.C.
There’s often uncertainty about whether Transit Police or local police should respond to a call, he said, resulting in “negotiation” between the forces and “frustration” among stakeholders.
“There have been a number of leadership changes in the Transit Police over the past year or two which have resulted in differing philosophies with respect to their deployment,” Meads said.
He said it should not have been a surprise that the TransLink policing model would be challenging.
“When you put fully trained police officers in a transit environment and restrict their work to transit properties, they realize fairly quickly that transit crime and disorder work is not that interesting for a police officer,” he said.
That can lead to transit officers looking further afield from transit lines for crime, worsening the “confusion over jurisdictional boundaries.”
Meanwhile, he said, other police forces sometimes “refuse to take the call” because of the existence of 167-officer Transit Police.
Since the report was filed, Edmonton’s deputy chief, Neil Dubord, was appointed chief officer of the Transit Police, filling a post that had been vacant since September 2010.
Dubord rejects the report’s depiction of Transit Police, adding it would make no sense to scrap the force and switch to having individual RCMP detachments and local police forces share the duty of patrolling transit lines.
Doing so would mean “varying levels of consistency of police service” as passengers pass through multiple different police jurisdictions.
“The Transit Police provide that standard consistency of police service,” he said.
Dubord said there is no confusion over jurisdiction – local police have the authority to handle whichever cases they want in transit areas and dispatchers coordinate the response.
Transit Police have no homicide squad, for example, and other serious crimes are often handled by other police.
As a result, Dubord said, local officers handle half of transit-related violent crime while Transit Police handle 67 per cent of property crime on the system and 92 per cent of transit-related drug crime.
He said Meads spoke only to one watch commander, not senior officers.
Transit Police spend $29 million a year – funded mainly by TransLink fares, gas taxes and property tax – and the force’s budget is slated to rise to $35 million by 2014 and $42 million by 2021.
Meanwhile, Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman is demanding the release of a separate audit of Transit Police conducted by Vancouver Police.
Dubord said the review findings will be made public in the months ahead but is in draft form now.
Bateman said TransLink should get no more tax dollars until it scraps the force, which he argues will be mostly irrelevant once SkyTrain fare gates are installed, eliminating officers’ main job of writing fare evasion tickets.
“The Transit Police should be disbanded and local police forces should be given back full jurisdiction over SkyTrain lines in their community,” he said.
“Younger officers would be absorbed by forces across the Lower Mainland, and older officers – many of whom are double-dipping by collecting pensions from other forces – could go back into retirement.”
TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis previously said he wants Transit Police to concentrate more on fare evasion on buses once fare gates are operational.
Dubord said the force is looking at how it can bolster bus security, but said it’s too early to provide details.
SFU criminologist Rob Gordon said scrapping the Transit Police would only make sense if Metro Vancouver also shifted to a single regional police force.