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Constable Ken Rutland of the transit police patrols at the Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station in Vancouver, Monday, November 5, 2012. Transit police and security guards stepped up their presence in Metro Vancouver after an explosive device was found on the SkyTrain tracks on Friday. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Constable Ken Rutland of the transit police patrols at the Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station in Vancouver, Monday, November 5, 2012. Transit police and security guards stepped up their presence in Metro Vancouver after an explosive device was found on the SkyTrain tracks on Friday. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Union defends Vancouver transit police Add to ...

The union representing the region’s transit police is defending the force after a call by Metro Vancouver mayors to review its costs and services.

During a recent meeting of the region’s mayors, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson asked TransLink’s independent commissioner, Martin Crilly, for a report comparing transit police with municipal forces. The mayors had been discussing a way to address TransLink’s shortfall of $30-million – about the same amount as the force’s 2011 budget.

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“Maybe we don’t need all the service that we needed four or five years ago,” Ms. Jackson said, referring to transit police.

But on Tuesday, David Black, president of Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union local 378 (COPE 378), countered the perception that transit police may not be as needed is due to the force having done its job effectively, resulting in a drop in crime along TransLink’s system.

As evidence, the union pointed to a 2012 operational review of transit police by the Vancouver Police Department, which stated the overall violent crime rate per 100,000 transit passengers decreased 13.4 per cent from 2008 to 2010.

“We get very good results for our money,” Mr. Black said.

Further, he noted transit hubs and systems attract criminals who use them to quickly get from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Municipal and RCMP forces are bound by some extent to their jurisdictions, Mr. Black pointed out, while transit police serve as a regional force and can “chase them wherever they go.”

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said “there is certainly merit” in such a structure in the absence of a regional police service.

“Whether or not there is an understanding that police officers in [Metro Vancouver] can go from one jurisdiction to another without any difficulty, there are still certain protocols around moving into someone else’s area and policing in that area, even if it involves hot pursuit of somebody,” he said.

Mr. Gordon continued: “The municipal forces and the RCMP do not ride the rails. It’s the transit police that will ride the rails, and as a consequence, provide a modicum of safety and security.”

A large cost identified in the Vancouver force’s 2012 review was for overtime: In 2009, transit police overtime expenditures amounted to $6,900 per authorized sworn officer. In comparison, VPD overtime expenditures amounted to $3,700 per sworn officer.

“The difference is significant because transit police incurs more overtime on a per-officer basis even though it is a supplemental police agency and has limited involvement in major crime investigations, which are key overtime drivers,” the review found.

It suggested the costs were largely due to certain clauses within the collective agreement between TransLink and COPE 378, which is geared more toward TransLink employees than police. Transit Police officers who work on Sundays, for example, are paid 125 per cent of their salary – a perk other front-line officers don’t get “because it is an integral part of policing,” the review stated.

Sage Aaron, a spokeswoman for COPE 378, said the Sunday premium was already clawed back from 150 per cent in 2007.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to apologize for having a good collective agreement for our members,” she said, noting the security risks they often face.

While the mayors’ council on regional transportation does not have authority to implement policy changes at TransLink, any cost-saving opportunities identified in Mr. Crilly’s report will likely be forwarded to TransLink’s board for consideration, Ms. Jackson said. It is not yet known when it might be completed.

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