Transit enforcement blitz highlights need for varied police models

An October enforcement blitz with Calgary police and Calgary Transit resulted in 45 arrests and 47 criminal charges.  (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)
An October enforcement blitz with Calgary police and Calgary Transit resulted in 45 arrests and 47 criminal charges. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)

Calgary police say improving safety on Calgary Transit remains a priority following an enforcement blitz last month that led to dozens of arrests and charges.

Taking place Oct. 21 – 24, police executed 171 warrants, issued 140 summonses (primarily for bylaw infractions related to fare evasion and loitering), arrested 45 people, laid 47 criminal charges (mostly for drug trafficking and concealed weapons), issued 110 warnings and seized approximately $3,000 in fentanyl and methamphetamine — all on transit property.

"There was quite a bit of social disorder and criminal activity that we had an opportunity to observe and address," said Insp. Scott Todd, who oversaw the blitz.

Police did not lay charges for simple drug possession.

This is the second time this year police have worked with transit authorities to conduct this kind of enforcement blitz. The first took place in early July leading up to Stampede, and at the time Todd said the sheer numbers of the blitz surprised him (327 warrants, 216 summons, 86 criminal charges).

Crime on transit was reported to be 47 per cent higher in the second quarter of 2022 than the preceding three-year average. This past quarter, it had dropped 12 per cent above the three-year average.

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

Using lessons learned in July, Todd said they were able to conduct the October blitz using half the number of people.

"In the summer, we wanted a very high profile presence and that was a big part of our mission in leading into Stampede, making sure that people saw both the peace officers and the police officers out there," he said.

"We were focusing on on different days of the week, different times, different resourcing levels... We had some plainclothes officers in a more covert capacity and we looked at if we dialled back the resources a little bit, could we have the same level of impact?"

Todd says it's clear that when there's a concentrated enforcement effort on transit, it's noticed.

"By the final day, some of our covert officers that were in the CTrain stations were being warned by individuals in the train stations to be careful because the the police had been around for a few days," he said.

Todd and his team got "a bit of a chuckle" out of that.

"Clearly we're as covert as we were hoping to be. I think that is positive to know. And, we know that when we're there and we're doing it, there's an impact. It's just figuring out a sustainable model."

Throughout the second blitz, Todd said quite a few people causing disorder or committing crime were the same people law enforcement dealt with in the summer.

"A very small group of people create a lot of issues and create a lot of challenges around addressing safety," he said.

Lucie Edwardson/CBC
Lucie Edwardson/CBC

Increased violence against peace officers and police within CTrain stations has been noted, according to Todd — and he knows Calgarians see and experience it too.

"So we do recognize that every citizen in Calgary who wants to ride the train or be in a station or enjoy any public space is entitled to do so safely, and we will keep striving to find the most effective way possible to make it safer for people," he said.

What that will ultimately look like in the future remains undecided, says Todd. But police and Calgary Transit are exploring how they can work together to have a consistent and ongoing impact on social disorder, crime and violence on transit.

Todd says more and different iterations of these enforcement blitzes can be expected in the months ahead, and they hope to have a plan together for long term joint enforcement in the new year.

"There's an incredible amount of professionalism on the part of the transit peace officers and commitment and knowledge," he said. "There's just certain skill sets and authorities that they can't bring to these sort of operations that CPS can."

For example, peace officers are not allowed to seize or transport drugs — but police do have that authority.

Earlier this week city administration proposed raising transit fares three per cent annually over the next four years. That means an adult monthly pass, now priced at $112, would cost $126 by 2026, if the plan is approved by council.

Calgarians told CBC News they're not happy with this proposal at a time when they continue to feel unsafe on transit.