Lessons learned: Calgary police say new enforcement effort on CTrains in the works

·5 min read
Calgary Transit commuters say they are worried that if the rules for respectful use of transit aren’t enforced, the problems will only get worse. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Calgary Transit commuters say they are worried that if the rules for respectful use of transit aren’t enforced, the problems will only get worse. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Calgary police say they understand people don't feel safe at CTrain stations and are promising a major enforcement effort starting in September, building on their first system-wide blitz this month.

For four days leading up to Stampede, undercover officers tracked drug deals at the stations. Working with the undercover officers and Transit peace officers, uniformed police then managed to lay 86 criminal charges, mostly for drug trafficking.

They also executed 327 warrants, served 216 summons, recovered three stolen bikes, interrupted a robbery in progress, reversed four overdoses and seized $30,000 worth of drugs (crack cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, gabapentin, psilocybin and ketamine).

Police did not lay charges for simple drug possession.

The sheer numbers surprised Insp. Scott Todd, who oversaw the blitz.

"For us, that was a little unexpected," he said. "Going forward into the fall, you'll see more operations similar to this one. We're trying to identify the most effective times, the most effective locations."

Todd said the effort focused on finding better ways for police and transit security to play to each other's strengths — peace officers with their in-depth knowledge of the players on the platform and police with their increased legal mandate to arrest and prosecute. That will help, he said.

"I ride the train at times, like many people that have been in (CBC Calgary's transit safety) articles. I understand it. I understand the feeling of not feeling safe at times," he said. "It's very, very unfortunate that's what patrons of the transit system feel."

Elise Stolte/CBC
Elise Stolte/CBC

New role and training for security

On Tuesday, city council will get an update on the new Calgary Transit security efforts. This is in addition to the new police efforts. According to a report released in advance of the meeting, Transit plans to boost the number of peace officers by 25 per cent, to 141 from 113.

But that will take some time because some of those existing 113 jobs are vacant. Transit is in hiring mode and will need 25 weeks to train each new officer.

Transit is also planning to hire 31 dedicated transit security guards, who will have 13 weeks of training and more responsibility than the current contracted civilian guards.

"Currently, the contracted guards are a visual deterrent," said Transit spokesman Stephen Tauro. "The Transit security guards will have better training. They'll be highly skilled guards with a little bit more authority than the contracted guards. They will be equipped to handle removal of unwanted individuals if there are issues and safety concerns."

"They also will be in direct contact with peace officers," said Tauro.

Julie Debeljak/CBC
Julie Debeljak/CBC

The report to council says transit is also increasing the number of inspectors, sergeants and dispatchers. The increased staff will cost about $6 million per year.

Transit peace officers also have an existing partnership with Alpha House's street outreach teams.

Many Calgary transit riders say drug use and disorder has increased on CTrain platforms and even in the train cars. It creates an unpredictable environment. Police have also seen an increase in crime.

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

As part of CBC Calgary's community-driven focus on transit safety, hundreds of passengers and former passengers have texted us, many of them saying they no longer take the train. Some drive, take buses even when that increases the length of the trip, or stay home.

'A bigger step than I thought'

These residents pitched various solutions, including enforcement and fare gates or turnstiles. They also want action on the underlying causes of social disorder — homelessness and drug addiction.

We reached out to several of them to see what they thought of the new plan.

"This is a bigger step than I thought, especially the time frame. I thought it would be years before they started cracking down," said Kraven Nightangel.

Nightangel is on AISH and doesn't drive. So when he quit taking the train, it meant he no longer visited certain friends downtown and has to rely on others to get him to appointments.

"But there's just too many people doing drugs. I didn't feel safe," he said. "Nothing specific ever happened. But seeing literally, right in front of me, people doing drugs, for me, it's really hard because I grew up with that. My mom was into drugs."

The new police approach "sounds like an amazing direction," added Jaycee Scott, who takes the train at 7:30 a.m. to a shipping-receiving job with a grocery chain. "It actually sounds like police are taking the problem seriously to me.

"A lot of people are really nervous about taking the trains most days. It's a step in the right direction. But the underlying cause is still going to be there. A lot of drug use."

Calgary Transit said ridership is now up to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

The frequency of buses and trains is still down. Transit says it's at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic service levels. It hopes to increase that to 90 per cent in September. The council report says getting to full pre-pandemic levels is one of four key planks in the recovery strategy.

Transit safety

This is part of our community-driven project exploring safety issues on Calgary Transit. Read all of the stories in the series so far at cbc.ca/transit.

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