Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Feb. 21, 2013)

A Well-Worn Drum

By Bob Cooper


The never ending attacks on the BC Transit Police must have my good friend Anne Drennan feeling like the owner of Pidgin Restaurant these days and Chief Dubord being silently thankful that his agency has a short history and the RAV Line never took kids to residential schools.  Frankly, itís something I havenít bothered with up until now because itís been coming mainly from the same two tired sources.   David Eby and the BC Criminal Liberties Association dislike all of the police pretty much all of the time and Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayersí Association is beating a well-worn drum of antipathy toward public sector employees.

Then I saw this item Local mayors questioning efficiency of transit police, which says local Mayors are questioning the efficiency of the Transit Police along with its very existence, but the only armchair expert identified and quoted was Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.  As critics go, Iíd lump him in with Eby & Bateman except that his role as Chair of the Vancouver Police Board might cause some to believe that he actually knows about, you know, police stuff.  Like Rock Hudson in that dopey 70s TV series MacMillan & Wife where a civilian police commissioner ran around solving murders all day.

First, letís deal with the basic issue, why do we have a separate police force for transit?  Simply put, the transit system is a unique environment requiring specialized policing.  In advance of the opening of Sky Train in 1986 we were sent to training sessions to acquaint us with the system in the event we had to answer calls there.  The emphasis was on safety and rightly so because in any system powered by a whole bunch of electricity, putting a foot wrong is as dangerous as questioning Penny Ballem and anything you learn on a one-day course will be quickly forgotten unless you work there on a continual basis.  I forgot it by lunchtime and remember thinking, Ďwhy donít you have your own cops?í     

Bateman claims the installation of fare gates will make the Transit Police redundant.  While I canít argue that the failure to install turnstiles in the first place was lunacy, almost every other transit system in the world has fare gates but also has their own police force and their riders feel much safer for having them.  Turnstiles will ensure that most gangsters, drug dealers, and thieves pay the fare but certainly wonít keep them off the trains.  The City of New York had separate police departments for Transit and Housing both of which were absorbed into the NYPD in 1995 but the NYPD still maintained Transit and Housing as specialized bureaus which have their own command structures and detective squads and are very proactive in protecting their patrons.  In New York, all of the functions of Transit and Housing take place within the 5 Boroughs and having them all administratively within the NYPD makes perfect sense.  Here, Sky Train runs through 4 municipalities (Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey), comprising 2 police departments and 2 RCMP detachments with 2 more (Coquitlam & Port Moody) coming on line soon.  Transit is a beat just like the 100 East Hastings or the 1000 Block Granville, and having the same cops patrol it and getting to know the people on it, both good and bad, goes back to the basic principles of policing. 

Under a regional police force it might be a different story but given the political fight against regionalization, it doesnít take a genius to know that with 6 different cities, 6 different mayors, and 6 different police departments involved, the transit system would be sucking the hind tit as far as policing goes no matter what promises are made.  While critics talk about efficiencies, Iíd point out that Transit hires a number of retiring cops from city police departments and the RCMP every year.  Not only do they save on the expense of recruiting and training but they get the bonus of decades of police experience and thatís a benefit you canít put a price on.      

Getting back to Robertson, under his administration when it comes to expensive empty bike lanes, special speed limits for junkies, backyard chickens, the vaults are open.  At the same time the VPD is as badly undermanned and underfunded as ever, but where he really outshone his predecessors was in presiding over cuts to police preparations while blowing money on Jumbotrons and inviting every drunk West of Chilliwack to come down and party on the night of the Stanley Cup Final.  We all remember how that turned out (official whitewashes notwithstanding) and his remarks about leaving policing to the mayors should be viewed in that light.



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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