Transit System Has Come a Long Way Since the “CrimeTrain”

February 26, 2013

Transit Police to Thank for Safer System, says Union

Transit Police are performing their jobs too well. People have forgotten why the force was created in the first place, says David Black, president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, local 378 (MoveUP).

In 1997, the Vancouver Police dubbed SkyTrain “the CrimeTrain.” In 2004, a VPD study showed that 55 per cent of all alleged criminals were arrested within 700 meters of a SkyTrain station. Then-TransLink chair Doug McCallum acknowledged criminals used the SkyTrain to get around the region.

During this time the RCMP had staged regular undercover operations at SkyTrain stations like Lougheed Station. They put plenty of drug dealers away but never solved the problem because the as soon as the cops left, the drug dealers would come back.

TransLink did employ dozens of special constables who did not have the authority to make arrests for drug possession or outstanding warrants. Their powers ended at the TransLink property line, meaning offenders could simply walk away.

That was then. This is now: 

Violent crime on TransLink’s system is down 13.4 per cent, revealed in a 2012 Operational Review by the Vancouver Police Department. Property crime is down 2.3 per cent. Fare enforcements are at an all-time high.

People feel safer on the system. Public perception of safety on the rail system has gone from 65 per cent to over 80 per cent. 

“Our members have worked hard to make our Transit system safe,” said MoveUP President David Black. “And they’ve succeeded, and continue to succeed every day. We get very good results for our money.”

Municipal and RCMP forces are bound to some extent to stick to their jurisdictions to avoid bureaucratic headaches. They are responsible for what happens within their respective cities. Despite high rates of transit crime, it wasn’t deemed a dedicated priority for local forces, and in some cases was seen as too expensive. These problems were solved by the creation of a dedicated Transit Police force with a specialized mandate to work along transit lines cross-jurisdictionally. 

“Transit hubs and systems attract crime and criminals use SkyTrain and buses to get from neighbourhood to neighbourhood,” said Black. “Transit Police can , and do, chase them where ever they go.”

The union does see simple ways in which TransLink could enable the Transit Police to do more. TransLink has put up artificial barriers between the bus system and the SkyTrain system and seems unwilling to look at ways Transit Police and Security could work in a more efficient, integrated model. TransLink won’t even offer the Transit Police advertising space for public safety messages. 

“There’s no doubt TransLink is a mess,” said Black. “It’s starved of sustainable funding. There is soap opera-like dysfunction at the decision-making level. But the solution to these problems isn’t to put our safety at risk. People on transit depend on our members for their safety. That’s a fact.”


Media contact:

Sage Aaron, Communications Director