Criminals are unwelcome on Metro Vancouver's public transit system: TransLink CEO

Apr 14 2023, 6:43 pm

“We will not allow criminals or those who want to commit crimes to come to our system. This is our system; this is the region’s transit system. We will not stand for this.”

Those are the stern comments made by TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn this morning in a press conference following a series of violent attacks onboard Metro Vancouver’s public transit network.

In recent weeks, there have been a growing number of high-profile violent attacks at transit hubs and onboard vehicles, including a throat slashing onboard a Surrey bus that critically injured a man on April 1 and the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old also in Surrey this past Tuesday.

On Wednesday, according to the bus driver’s union, there was a violent and bloody fight onboard a moving vehicle on West Vancouver Blue Bus.

“As a father, I was particularly shocked regarding the fatal stabbing onboard one of our buses earlier this week, and our sincere condolences with that young man’s family,” said Quinn.

“I want to be abundantly clear that everyone has the right to feel safe on transit. These incidents are absolutely unacceptable… I’m angry, really angry and frustrated. I’m bothered by these events, and as a parent of two transit-riding kids every single day, I’m concerned. The fact is we will not stand for these types of incidents on our system.”

Quinn reiterated comments made by TransLink’s Transit Police force yesterday, which has stepped up its patrols in crime hotspots.

He also reiterated the forthcoming addition of 24 community safety officers that will be added to the Transit Police department. The community safety officers will be unarmed, performing duties such as community engagement, transit safety education, evidence collection, perimeter security at police incidents, crowd control, fare enforcement, and support at large events.

The creation of community safety officers will allow armed Transit Police patrol officers to focus their efforts on tackling criminal activity.

Anyone feeling unsafe while on public transit can text Transit Police dispatch at 87-77-77 for non-emergency incidents. For cases of emergency, call 911.

Currently, TransLink is the only public transit system in Canada with its own dedicated police service, with the Transit Police employing 184 police officers.

For those who are onboard SkyTrain, they can also press the “silent alarm” yellow strip found along the span of every window frame inside the trains. If this strip button is pressed, SkyTrain attendants will be immediately dispatched for assistance.

“You have my assurance that we are doing everything we can in coordinating with our local, municipal, and provincial authorities to make our system safe, and we’ll continue to explore ways to make our system safe,” continued Quinn.

According to TransLink, in 2022, Transit Police officers made 858 arrests for outstanding criminal warrants across the country.

Many arrests are made after officers observed individuals tailgating someone through a fare gate, at which point the individuals were found to have an outstanding warrant for previous criminal activities. In a February 2023 incident, for instance, a man being inspected after following someone through the fare gates was found to not only have an outstanding warrant but also was in possession of a knife.

In another example, in December 2022, a man touching his genitals onboard SkyTrain at Commercial-Broadway Station was promptly reported by a passenger to Transit Police through the text message hotline. Officers arrived and arrested the suspect after discovering he had an outstanding warrant.

There was a 9% increase in the number of sexual offence files by Transit Police in 2022 compared to 2021.

The number of crimes against persons files went up by 15% in 2022 compared to 2021, including a 24% increase in assaults and a 31% increase compared to the 10-year average through 2012. As well, theft incidents were up by 31% in 2022 compared to 21, and 27% above the 10-year average. The monthly average of theft files in 2022 was the highest recorded by Transit Police since 2012.

With mental health incidents on public transit, there was a 13% increase in persons in mental health crises apprehended by Transit Police under the Mental Health Act, with 2022 experiencing the highest monthly averages in about eight years. Of the persons apprehended under the Mental Health Act, 76% were committed, held, or voluntarily admitted once at hospital.

While there are growing public safety concerns on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system following the recent incidents, Quinn assert that TransLink remains as one of the safest systems in North America, as it has not seen the same increased levels in violent crime compared to ridership regrowth that other systems have seen.

“It is absolutely sad and unacceptable that a young man lost his life this week on the transit system. This is about unacceptable levels of violence on society, and it’s not specifically about the transit system, although that is the site of where that tragedy occurred,” said BC minister of transportation and infrastructure Rob Fleming today.

“This is a bigger issue that governments like ours, and governments across the country, are trying to address through a variety of interventions through mental health, addictions, and more effective public safety systems. We’re working with Ottawa right now on the sentencing gap that has allowed too many repeat offenders to be out, and in some cases within hours of being charged of significant crimes.”

As of the end of 2022, TransLink ridership has rebounded to 82% of pre-pandemic volumes, including 84% for buses, 81% for SkyTrain Expo/Millennium lines, 75% for SeaBus, 74% for SkyTrain Canada Line, 74% for HandyDART, and 43% for West Coast Express.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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