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B.C. transit police adopting New York City tactics after bomb scare

Constable Ken Rutland of the transit police patrols at the Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station in Vancouver on Monday.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

As it embarks on the largest investigation in its history – following the discovery of an explosive device – the Lower Mainland's transit police force is turning to a security model developed in New York, and insisting it's up to the task of leading such a serious investigation.

The explosive device – the first ever to be found along the region's transit system – was spotted on the SkyTrain track Friday afternoon, about midway between Surrey's Scott Road and Gateway stations. How the device got there remains a mystery, as does what type of explosive was used. Tests continue.

Those who rode the train Monday couldn't help but notice enhanced security. That, said Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan, was by design. For the first time, the force deployed a plan known as TOMS – Transit Order Maintenance Sweeps. "It's a very simple approach, but it's been extremely effective in New York, given that they have emergency situations quite often," Ms. Drennan said in an interview at Vancouver's bustling Commercial-Broadway station. "Officers stand on the platform to greet the trains and they stand just outside the doors. When the doors open and the passengers get off, our officers then step onto the train, do a visual assessment, greet the people on the train and step back off."

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Ms. Drennan said the sweeps allow officers to quickly assess whether there's any danger inside the SkyTrain cars. Most importantly, she said, they give passengers the "reassurance of a highly visible uniform presence, which is key right now."

The Surrey incident prompted searches at other Lower Mainland transit hubs. There were a couple of false alarms, and no shortage of breathless media coverage.

Ms. Drennan said while transit officers have, of course, greeted passengers and done safety checks in the past, TOMS is different because it is "a more concerted effort to be highly visible." The enhanced security will go on through the week. Ms. Drennan said if nothing "untoward" is reported, the force will scale back its numbers.

The investigation into the explosive device continues. Three cylinders were tied together before somehow ending up on the tracks. Ms. Drennan said they might have been thrown from a neighbouring hillside. She said it would have been virtually impossible to drop the device from the train. One of the trains dragging the device to that particular spot also appears unlikely.

While the RCMP's explosives unit dismantled the device and is conducting tests on the material, Ms. Drennan said the transit force is leading the investigation. When asked if it has the expertise to do so, she said yes.

"We have a number of transit police officers that were police officers for other agencies prior to coming to transit. Our crime-reduction unit is comprised of a group of experienced officers, senior officers, detectives, who have specialized skill sets," she said.

About a dozen investigators are working on the case. Ms. Drennan added that the force has reached out to jurisdictional police partners, who have pledged assistance wherever possible.

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