City officials are highlighting the early result of several investments to improve safety on Calgary Transit, as the service continues to grapple with the perception it is unsafe.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek was joined by representatives from the Calgary Police Service, transit peace officers, and Calgary Transit for a ride-along Thursday.
The ride-along began at the City Hall CTrain station, where officials boarded a westbound train to 4th Street Station, the site of some public safety incidents since the pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone here is saying this is the average ride. We’ve got a lot of people with cameras and a lot of microphones, so it’s certainly not a typical ride,” Gondek said. “I do think it’s important to highlight for Calgarians that we have made significant investments.”
Gondek said a $33-million investment last year has been followed up with a $32-million injection this year for transit safety and security initiatives, and hinted more funding could be on the way.
Those investments and strategic changes have resulted in the permanent hiring of 36 transit peace officers, and the deployment of corporate security guards and transit ambassadors on the CTrain line.
Upgrades to lighting, security cameras, and infrastructure at several train stations were also included in the recent security funding.
“There’s a lot of strategies around clearing up some of the excess furniture to help keep those visible lines, so that our teams back in the command centre have a clear view of what’s happening and can send help when required,” Calgary Transit director Sharon Fleming said.
Both Calgary Police and transit officials said the initiatives are starting to pay off, noting a spike in officer-generated calls on transit since January.
According to new numbers from the Calgary Police Service, transit-related calls increased 51 per cent between January and May compared to the same time frame last year, with 5,767 calls for service.
However, 70 per cent of the calls for service this year are “proactively officer generated,” a 22-per cent increase over the same time period last year.
Calgary Police deputy chief Chad Tawfik said the increase in calls doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in incidents.
“With that comes an increase in other numbers that might initially be concerning… But that’s really because of focused attention,” he said. “That to me is us tackling the issues that we’re seeing.”
Tawfik said police have dealt with 1,700 individuals on transit over the last few months, with around 100 or more involved in “harm offences.”
“Officers are going to engage with compassion where it’s appropriate, and enforcement where appropriate,” he said.
Aaron Coon, who is overseeing the transit peace officers, said transit officers have moved away from enforcing fare evasion to a call response model.
Speaking to reporters on the platform at 4th Street Station, Coon said calls for service have increased significantly during the pandemic, with the highest number of calls for welfare checks, and helping people navigate the transit system.
The city’s funding also allows integrated patrols between transit peace officers and police to continue seven nights per week. Previously, those patrols were limited to only four nights per week.
Coon said the integrated model between police, transit officers, corporate security and local outreach teams is working, while there is ongoing analysis internally to make the partnerships more efficient and effective.
“We’re excited about the work that we’re doing right now with our partner agencies,” Coon said. “We are confident and comfortable that it is safer than it was six months ago.”
The next step in the work around transit safety is the development of a “multi-disciplinary transit safety strategy,” which is expected to be presented at city hall in September.
The strategy is expected to find better ways to integrate police, peace officers, security and outreach teams on the transit network based on the early efforts already underway.
The higher number of calls is seen as a good sign for Calgary’s mayor, pointing to the new Transit Watch text line (74100) to anonymously report ongoing incidents on transit whether they’re criminal or simply a welfare check.
Gondek said signs advertising the text line are posted on platforms and in CTrain cars stemming from an idea from a member of her staff, who struggled to find the number during an incident.
“Ultimately, the goal is for anyone at anytime to feel that they can have reliable, dependable and safe transit service,” Gondek said.
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