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TTC officers should be trained in de-escalation: Ombudsman

Commuters ride a TTC subway west from Kennedy Station in Scarborough on Sept. 25, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The TTC has agreed to rein in its enforcement unit after a violent take down of two transit riders laid bare gaps in training and oversight.

City Ombudsman Susan Opler launched an investigation after video of the 2015 incident appeared on social media, sparking widespread public and political criticism. Her probe found that the use-of-force policy governing transit-enforcement officers did not include de-escalation as an alternative and that violent incidents involving the unit were not being tracked internally.

Her investigation did not review specifically the behaviour of the transit-enforcement officers in the 2015 incident, who were cleared by police for their actions at Union Station after a Maple Leafs game. But in a 74-page report, she laid out 26 recommendations for improving public safety and TTC accountability.

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Among the key findings were that the TTC amend its training to "clearly outline the importance of de-escalation" and ensure that the enforcement unit get regular instruction on dealing with people affected by mental illness or emotional distress. She also urged the TTC to track use-of-force incidents, to allow for comparative analysis, and examine the 2015 incident to see whether it could have been avoided.

"The TTC is a public organization that employs staff with powers similar to those of police officers and the authority to use force and arrest citizens," Ms. Opler wrote.

"The public interest requires that the TTC have a comprehensive, effective and publicly accessible oversight system in place for [transit-enforcement officers] and [transit-fare inspectors]. To ensure accountability, the TTC's oversight system must be transparent and subject to scrutiny, and must inspire and maintain public confidence."

The TTC said that it had accepted all 26 recommendations and was already in the process of implementing 23 of them. All of them will be in place by next year, chief executive officer Andy Byford said.

"A new draft policy and procedures manual for Transit Fare Inspectors will be completed by the end of the third quarter of 2017," he wrote in a letter appended to the report. "TTC staff will consult with your office prior to finalizing and publishing any policy and process changes identified in your report."

The men involved in the 2015 incident were charged with assaulting a peace officer, only to have those charges dropped. They later launched a $4-million lawsuit that has not been settled in court.

The incident was one of a series of public black eyes for the transit-enforcement unit, which includes both the officers responsible for checking fares and those tasked with keeping the system secure.

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Eight officers were fired in 2013 after allegations they were writing fake tickets to cover up the fact that they were doing personal errands while on the clock. The two officers in charge of the unit later left the TTC.

Controversy later arose at city hall over the perception among some councillors that that enforcement unit was coming across as too aggressive. In December, the TTC approved new policies including a more customer-friendly uniform for fare inspectors, as well as taking away their handcuffs.

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