Calgary Transit security will be beefed up with added personnel and deployment adjustments slated to go into effect immediately.
On Monday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Chief of Public Vehicle Standards Division, Aaron Coon, and Calgary Police Service Chief Constable Mark Neufeld announced the plan for immediate action to address safety concerns around transit.
Among the changes will be a doubling of contracted security guards from eight to 16, jumping to 24 by the end of April. They will also be increasing night patrols with police officers and peace officers from four to seven nights per week. Peace officers will also be deployed to other operational areas to aid transit safety initiatives.
Officers will also be sent proactively to areas when suspicious behaviour or gatherings happen.
Further, Calgary Transit will run announcements saying the area is under surveillance and for transit users. Transit stations will be cleaned more frequently, and a rapid response unit will be deployed to fix infrastructure damaged by vandals.
Mayor Gondek said they’re taking a compassionate approach to vulnerable Calgarians.
“But there is a criminal element here and that is what we need to approach at this particular point in time,” Mayor Gondek said.
“Is enforcement the only solution? Absolutely not. It has to be something that is done with collective organizations to ensure public safety for wrapping up enforcement at this particular point in time.”
In last November’s budget meeting, the city allocated an additional $20 million to the Calgary Police Service (CPS), enabling them to bump up the recruitment of 150 new officers.
An additional $33 million was also put into transit recovery, of which $11.2 million is dedicated to transit safety initiatives, such as lighting improvements, among others, said Mayor Gondek. A few weeks ago, council also approved another sum of $32 million in operational savings to be used for system recovery.
“This is a total of $85 million in investments that have allowed Calgary Transit to work in an integrated manner with the Calgary police service. Both organizations have a tremendous amount of trust in each other. And this is the only way that we can establish safety on transit and restore the public’s confidence,” said Gondek.
Transit environment change
In an attempt to reduce suspicious behaviours and gatherings that could escalate into dangerous situations, the City will proactively dispatch resources to increase uniformed presence where needed.
Chief Coon said environmental design plays an important role in the perception of safety on Calgary Transit.
Effective immediately, announcements will run on train stations, stating the platform is under surveillance and only for transit users. Other changes include the creation of a rapid response team that’ll be answering to infrastructure repair due to vandalism or other causes immediately.
Additionally, benches will be removed and there will be areas identified as ‘no waiting zones.’
“We recognize that this is an inconvenience for riders including for people who suffer from mobility issues. We believe that it will have an impact on loitering in our areas,” Coon said.
“We believe in the combination of added public safety presence on our system, combined with the environmental change, and that will help complement the work that we’re already doing.”
Last month, the City of Calgary said the lighting at all downtown LRT platforms was upgraded.
Other steps have also been taken, including adding more corporate security at platforms that were attached to City of Calgary buildings.
Train car pharmacy
Last week, the CPS successfully completed an undercover operation that uncovered serious criminal issues in transit.
Chief Neufeld said that many of the drugs seized have high street values.
“As a result of the most recent undercover operation on transit, our officers seized various types of drugs - you guys, it’s a veritable pharmacy," Chief Neufeld said.
"And we're not talking about individuals who had a moment consistent with personal use, we're talking about large quantities of drugs in the high street values."
After efforts to promote and maintain public health were exercised during the pandemic, police enforcement on transit became less strong, giving way to a “permissive” environment.
According to Neufeld, arrests, more people granted bail and sentenced offenders being released from custody early in order to keep them safe, were some of the cases where police action eased up.
In the interest of personal safety and social distancing, many vulnerable citizens left shelters, and some migrated to transit spaces where the use of these was reduced.
Despite police officers leading with an emphasis on compassionate efforts to connect vulnerable citizens to services and support wherever possible, some citizens refuse to comply, according to Neufeld.
“We're now seeing though that there's a significant portion of those who were improperly using transit and other public spaces who would become entrenched. Many are displaying resistance to offers and services and support and as well as reduced cooperation and compliance with authority figures on transit,” he said.
“We have reached a point where enhanced enforcement intervention is required.”
Mayor Gondek said the City has partnered with CPS, Calgary Transit and other organizations to connect people in need to support and help resources.
Mayor Gondek pleas for Provincial Government funding
Mayor Gondek also made a plea to the Provincial Government to ask for funding assistance to appease citizens’ safety concerns.
“While the 12 Sheriff project is appreciated, it is neither permanent nor comprehensive. While we also appreciate that have been made into mental health and addictions run we are at a point in time, as I've said where additional enforcement resources are also needed,” Gondek said.
Mayor Gondek called for the reinstatement of the full municipal proportion of CPS ticket revenue, one which the City has not counted on since 2019. As a result of this, Council has been covering a $10 million shortfall over the past few years – a cost that is ultimately recouped by taxpayers.
The Mayor also addressed the need for a municipal support grant that keeps up with inflation and population growth.
“This has not been done over the grant and municipalities and their citizens are suffering as a result we need a policing support grant that is respectful of our current situation. We are not averse to stepping up with our own municipal funds and we have done that very clearly. But we can't do this alone. So, we are requesting provincial support,” she said.
Last month, after two people were stabbed on the 4th Street LRT platform downtown, Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong also called for more provincial support. At the time, he said he was frustrated by the limited provincial response.
City officials said more resources for transit safety could be discussed in May.