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Transit Police audit lauds 'back to basics' policing

Overtime costs flagged, SkyTrain fare gates to spur changes
Transit Police officer conducting a fare check at a SkyTrain station.

An audit of Metro Vancouver's Transit Police has concluded the force is "effective" and achieved a sharp drop in violent crime rates on the transit system since 2008.

The largely upbeat review, conducted by the Vancouver Police Department at the transit force's request, also flags high overtime costs and includes a series of recommendations to improve policing of the SkyTrain and bus system.

It generally credits a "back to basics" approach to beat policing to ensure a visible police presence on the SkyTrain system.

The report found transit system violent crime fell 13.4 per cent from 2008 to 2010 and dropped nearly 20 per cent on SkyTrain's Expo and Millennium lines.

That was faster than the decline in violent crime in nearby cities like Vancouver and Surrey, but property crime rates on transit lines didn't drop as fast.

The report recommends Transit Police establish permanent foot patrols to target the most crime-ridden SkyTrain stations and bus loops, target park-and-ride lots during the day when car thieves know cars will be parked for long periods and that officers target problem night bus routes from 2 to 4 a.m.

It also advises the force to focus on SkyTrain lines, where the crime rate is much higher than on buses.

Activation of SkyTrain station fare gates in 2013 will change policing, the report says, reducing the need for fare enforcement on the system.

But it warns bottlenecks of passengers lined up to get through the turnstiles may "create hostility among commuters and disorder outside fare paid zones" that will require police attention.

"The Compass Card system will exacerbate the congestion problem because transit riders will also have to tap out before they exit the station."

Operating costs of $158,000 per officer could be lower, the report said, and it called the more than $1 million per year in overtime logged high, even taking into account higher Sunday premiums and overtime rates that are terms of officers' union contract.

Chief Neil Dubord said overtime costs have been cut 50 per cent in the first three months of this year.

"We're paying far closer attention to overtime management," he said.

Three surplus patrol cars and an arrest van have also been decommissioned in response to the review.

Dubord said officers will continue to guard against fare evaders even after gates are installed because some people will still find ways to enter without paying.

Asked if the VPD-led review can be seen as fair since senior VPD officers on secondment were heading the Transit Police at the time it was commissioned, Dubord defended the decision.

"The choice was one of cost efficiency and operational experience and who had experience to do it as well," he said. "We're happy with the audit."

The findings also shed light on how far the force is stretched, noting the current contingent of 167 officers, fully deployed, can patrol 14 per cent of SkyTrain or two per cent of the bus system on a typical weekday.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said he wishes the review had considered alternative ways of policing the transit system, using an integrated police unit modeled after IHIT or the gang task force.

"There are cheaper ways to deliver that service," Bateman said.

"I question the effectiveness of a force that's ramping up to spend $30 million a year. I question the value for money there."

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