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Police dogs, text-message crime reporting: SkyTrain ramps up security measures based on new research

Police dogs, text-message crime reporting: SkyTrain ramps up security measures based on new research

Doug Kelsey and Ward Clapham at the press conference, held at Broadway Station today.
Doug Kelsey and Ward Clapham at the press conference, held at Broadway Station today.

We held a press conference at Broadway Station today about new security measures SkyTrain is putting in place (or already has put in place!) on the system.

Doug Kelsey, president and CEO of SkyTrain, and Ward Clapham, Chief Officer of our Transit Police, talked about these changes at the conference, and explained that they are happening due to the results of major research and public consultation initiatives on the topic of SkyTrain security.

Here’s the items we released to the press, for your reading pleasure:

I’ll also talk a little more about the major items from the announcement below.

What are the new security measures coming to SkyTrain?

  • Security personnel will be more visible at stations where transit customers feel the least secure
    This is a measure that’s already in place: SkyTrain Attendants and/or Transit Police officers will be present full-time at the Surrey Central, New Westminster, Broadway and Main Street locations, since consultations show that customers feel the least secure at these stations. SkyTrain staff will keep a safety watch at the stations while new Transit Police bike patrols will join local police forces in covering neighbourhoods around the stations, which were also identified as ‘unsafe’ in the public surveys.
  • New Transit Police bike patrols
    Eleven Transit Police officers have been issued bikes and 10 more will get their bikes next year. Chief Officer Clapham explains that two officers on bikes have the same effect as eight officers on foot because they can cover far more ground.
  • SkyWatch: customers report crime via text-messages
    We’ll be setting up a special number where customers can text any suspicious or criminal activity directly to security personnel.
  • Continued drug sweeps in partnership with police forces along the SkyTrain line
    After focusing on drug sweeps along the line, Transit Police have seen arrests increase 83 per cent compared to last year.
  • The creation of “transit villages” around Surrey Central and Broadway Station
    Transit villages are attractive, compact, mixed-use communities centered around a transit station, allowing residents, workers, and shoppers to drive less and take transit, walk and cycle more. The villages feature improved lighting, sight lines and amenities that promote safe walking and cycling. These will definitely take some time as we work with the different municipalities to improve streets in neighbourhoods around SkyTrain stations.
  • Broadway Station safety and security upgrades
    We’re continuing with Broadway Station upgrades that include significant safety and security initiatives. Check out this post for more information on the upgrades.
  • Continuing to expand retail presence at SkyTrain stations to provide more “eyes and ears” at more times of the day
  • Testing public acceptance of the use of police dogs on the SkyTrain system
    This one’s gotten a lot of attention, but it’s still in the early stages of development! Don’t expect to see Turner and Hooch swarming the trains tomorrow.

    Edit: In response to the comments on this post, I asked Tom Seaman from Transit Police media relations for a bit more info on the police dog use. The full comment is available below, but I thought I’d highlight two key paragraphs here too.

    Having “police dogs” on the Transit System is a big… “IF” right now. As a police service we have to look at all ways of maintaining the safety and security of the system. “IF” we learn through research that dogs can enhance this goal then we “MAY” implement such a plan. Our work is not impeded by not having dogs, but we may be able to do more with one or two specifically trained dogs. We would not be roaming the system sniffing people for drugs. We “MAY” want to sniff for explosives though. Again, thinking of safety and security, what would the public response be if some sort of attack took place against the system, and we had not done all we could to prevent or detect that attack.

    Many transit systems around the world use much more stringent security measures, including dogs. Luckily we have not got to that point yet. But, you just have look around the world to see what is taking place and what has been targeted to see what could happen. We already see the dogs in use right here at the airport. I have not heard any protest to that. We move close to 72 million people a year, we owe it to them to do the utmost to protect them.

  • Completion of lighting upgrades at the Expo Line stations
  • Testing facility improvements that will make emergency telephones and other security systems easier to locate, particularly on station platforms

These new security measures sound a bit disparate. Are there any themes linking them all together as a unified program?

Doug Kelsey
Doug Kelsey

A perceptive question. Essentially, our research and analysis identified four key ‘themes’ that shape these measures and future measures we will undertake to improve security for customers:

  • REASSURANCE – making sure SkyTrain Attendants and police officers are more visible in stations, particularly at stations identified by the public as the “least safe”
  • ENGAGEMENT – more contact with members of the public as new ways in which they can participate in improving security conditions on the system
  • INFRASTRUCTURE – measures such as upgraded lighting and video monitoring and renovations such as the work currently underway at Broadway station
  • INTERVENTION – taking public security beyond the realm of law enforcement and attacking the root causes of crime through an integrated approach with health, social and mental health services

Okay. So, you’ve said these measures come as a result of extensive public consultation and research. Just what consultations and research did you do over the last year?

A lot, actually. The consultation efforts included:

Plus, the Transit Police did their own analysis of criminal activity in the areas surrounding SkyTrain stations, using existing statistics on crime in Metro Vancouver supplied by local police departments.

That resulted in two reports: the LMD SkyTrain Analysis Pilot Project and the Lower Mainland SkyTrain Analysis Report. The Pilot Project took data from a 28-day period in the summer of 2007, plotted the location of each incident within 250m (approximately three blocks) of a SkyTrain station and compared those patterns with crime patterns in the rest of the cities in question. The Analysis Report looked specifically at incidents within 100m of each station over a one year period. There was no attempt to confirm or refute a causal relationship between SkyTrain and crime, but rather to describe the distribution of crime in the areas surrounding the stations.

This is the first time crime levels at or near SkyTrain stations have been compared with crime patterns in the rest of the cities in which they were located. You can read a summary of those two reports in this analysis document (this is the analysis document released to the press from the beginning of this post).

And all together, this is the most extensive review of security measures we have ever done on the system.

I’d love to read all that, but I don’t really have time. Can you tell me the key points and ideas that bubbled up from the consultations and research?

Doug Kelsey and Ward Clapham
Doug Kelsey and Ward Clapham

Well, we learned a lot. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • 11 per cent of crimes occur within 250m of a SkyTrain station
  • SkyTrain stations with the higher crime rates are located in areas where certain “attractants” exist, such as the consistent presence of drug dealers, in some cases certain types of pubs and nightclubs or agencies, facilities and services serving drug dependent people or those with mental challenges
  • SkyTrain stations near shopping centres also showed higher rates of crime within 250m
  • In addition to mapping crime incidents near existing SkyTrain stations, the LMD SkyTrain Analysis Pilot Project also reviewed crime data along the Canada Line corridor in Richmond, and found that six per cent of the city’s incidents occur within 250m of the future stations. The Transit Police is using this data to better manage or even mitigate the security situation around the new stations.
  • Perceptions of insecurity at SkyTrain stations are not necessarily driven by the levels of crime around the stations.

    For example, people indicate they feel safer at downtown Vancouver stations because there are more people around, yet the combined number of incidents around those four stations is higher than in Surrey, where people say they feel least safe.

    As Doug Kelsey said in our press release, “Waterfront is perceived as the ‘safest’ station on the line, yet it has the highest rate of crime going on around it in terms of incidents per 100,000 people passing through the station. Other stations have much lower crime rates and yet the anxiety level is high, due to the presence of what transit customers call ‘unsavoury people’ in or around stations. There are things we can and will do about that.”

    As well, Metrotown station was listed in the top five safest and least safe stations (its incident rate is 20th on the list: 19.25). Main Street-Science World tied with Broadway as third-least-safe station, yet the Transit Police report finds Main Street had the 11th lowest rate per 100,000 boardings of the 33 stations on the system.

  • Consistently, the biggest factor driving feelings of insecurity was the presence of ‘unsavoury’ people on the system or around the stations.

    A variety of indicators pointed to ‘unsavoury’ people—defined as loiterers, panhandlers, drug users, and others—as the chief factor influencing feelings of insecurity.

    For us, the presence of people with any variety of medical, psychological or social disadvantages near transit facilities or elsewhere in the community signals the need for a broad response based on compassion for their situation as well as care for the security and wellbeing of others.

    The transit system has a role to play in this response by virtue of the fact that a measurable percentage of its ‘captive’ ridership (over 30 per cent of transit riders do not have ready access to any other form of transportation) is comprised of people in this group.

    As Chief Officer Clapham said in our press release, “The police need other tools over and above arresting people and putting them in jail. There needs to be a broad based community intervention to give drug dependent people, those with mental issues or anyone in crisis, the services they need. This will rescue a lot of lives, and based on what transit customers tell us, it will do more than anything else to make them feel more secure on the transit system.”

  • Responsibility for security lies with TransLink and the community at large.

    In our survey, 92 per cent of respondents said SkyTrain/TransLink had total or primary responsibility for security inside stations. Elsewhere, people felt that the responsibility was shared.

    More than half of respondents (56%) say the local police shares responsible for security both in the immediate vicinity and on the walkways. Interestingly, on the question of who is responsible for security inside the station, passengers themselves were second-most-identified group, with 41% saying that customers have a personal responsibility for their own safety. (The percentages add up to more than 100 because multiple answers were accepted.)

    “Just as our studies have confirmed that crime is a ‘people’ issue, so is the prevention and cure,” Chief Clapham said. “Everyone has a role to play, from Transit Police, SkyTrain, TransLink, our colleagues in the jurisdictional police departments and anyone who rides the system. The information we’ve gathered will help us determine clearly what those roles are.”

  • A human presence is seen as the most effective way of improving security.

    Of all the measures believed by the public to be effective in improving their sense of security on SkyTrain and in the areas around rapid transit stations and bus loops, nothing is seen to be more effective than a human presence, be it transit staff, police or simply other people. This influences our decision to staff stations that are seen as less secure, and encouraging the development of transit villages.

What happens next?

Well, we’ll start putting in place the many safety measures listed above, according to the four themes of reassurance, engagement, infrastructure, and intervention. And we’ll keep working on consultation and research to better inform our future strategies, not only to deal with crime and the perception of crime in the immediate vicinity of SkyTrain stations, but to prevent crime in the first place.

We really are focused on action, and we will continue to undertake measures to improve security and the perception of security on SkyTrain and its stations.

Comments are welcome below!