Two Edmonton unions say scaled back police patrols and COVID-19-related staffing shortages are leading to a rise in crime and social disorder on public transit.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 30, which represent public transit and some City of Edmonton employees respectively, are calling for more measures from the city, as well as support from the Edmonton Police Service, to address safety on transit and help overwhelmed peace officers.
"They do their best to try and keep order, but they have no authorities to do that," said Steve Bradshaw, transit union president. "It's extremely demoralizing. It's depressing. It's stressful."
There's a need for more and better equipped peace officers, who have more authority to enforce the law, and the union needs support from Edmonton police, Bradshaw said.
Last spring, the City of Edmonton launched joint patrols to try to curb disorder around public transit, as offences at bus and LRT properties rose about 30 per cent from December 2020 to March 2021. The patrols paired three peace officers with three police officers to identify problem areas and monitor known hot spots of criminal activity.
Despite a rise in the number of weapons complaints and a spike in drug overdoses, the police force has since suspended joint patrols, Bradshaw said.
"There is no routine support from EPS for the transit system," he said.
In a statement issued to news media Saturday, the EPS agreed the model for safety in the transit system needs to change. But suggesting "that EPS officers are ignoring criminal activity is baseless."
From July 2021 to December 2021, police responded to 1,432 calls for service in the transit and LRT system. December was the busiest month with 313 calls for service, police said.
The police force has not reduced LRT patrols either, they added.
The force has been calling for change for over two years, including when addressing city council last month, police said.
In the meantime, transit peace officers have been supported by animal control officers and park rangers, who are also experiencing staff shortages due to crime in the the transit system, Eric Lewis, president of CUPE Local 30, said in a news release.
"These trained and skilled officers need the support of city council and the administration to do their jobs. They should stop expecting the workers to put themselves at risk to solve problems the city has created," Lewis said.
Lack of affordably housing, transit ridership
There are many other factors that are contributing to the rise in offences on public transit, said Coun. Michael Janz, such as lack of affordable housing and shelter safety for those experiencing homelessness, and a drop in transit ridership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If our transit officers are saying that the police need to come, then certainly they need to step it up. But we also need to take a look at all of these other pieces here," Janz said.
Councillors hope to discuss options to make sure the city is enforcing standards at shelters, transit is safe and that police are responding to priority needs, when council reconvenes, Janz said.
City administration is also working with the peace officers' union to explore increased equipment to help peace officers manage crowds, Bradshaw said.