Costly Transit police force takes taxpayers for a ride

By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun August 15, 2012

If there is such a good case to be made                                                                                                           for TransLink’s stand-alone police                                                                                                                  force, why doesn’t BC Ferries have its own armed cops?

I think it’s nonsense that Transit officers authorized to use sidearms ride SkyTrain supposedly catching fare evaders and “fighting crime” while enjoying an exorbitant overtime deal and a 25-per-cent bonus for working on Sundays.

On the weekend aboard a Gulf Island ferry, I watched a slightly built female attendant, without backup or a 9-mm, order two thirsty tough-looking truckers to put away the beers they were sucking back.

She didn’t have a problem.

Over decades of travelling up and down the coast on the ferry system, I can’t recall a discussion over coffee much less a public outcry that it was unsafe or lacked an armed security force.

The SkyTrain system is not a qualitatively different public space than our streets, buses, ferries or airports.

There was no good reason to create this unique little force in 2005 and there is no good reason to maintain Chief Neil Dubord’s $27-million-a-year empire of 167 sworn officers and 67 civilians.

In 2010, those officers earned between $75,000 and $226,247 each, with the total salary cost reported at $40.5 million. They billed about $1 million a year in overtime, roughly twice what the much larger Vancouver police department paid.

Listening to chief operating officer Doug Kelsey justify this expensive fiefdom based on the supposed-to-be-opened-by-2016 Evergreen Line rankles.

Whom is he trying to kid that vandalism and fare evasion cannot be curbed equally well by less expensive attendants or ordinary security guards?

As for crime-fighting, where is the civic pantheon of SkyTrain heroes?

I’m sure the officers probably have been threatened and had to deal with drunks, drug-addled mental patients, testosterone-charged teenagers or menacing individuals.

So have most of us who regularly hang out downtown after 11 p.m.

But murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution, gambling, extortion, drug dealing, vicious gangsters and the truly dangerous job of real policing?

That’s why police officers are well paid and given good benefits-and-retirement packages — not for riding the rails during daytime handing out tickets that until recently weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

We paid on average $158,000 for each sworn transit officer in 2009 compared to the VPD’s average of $160,000 or the RCMP’s $155,000 per officer.

They are not doing equivalent work and the managerial redundancies are self-evident.

Crimes on the transit system are primarily crimes of opportunity and those who commit them are desperate, petty thugs and thieves. They act when no one in authority, armed or not, is around to raise an alarm.

The woman sexually assaulted at the Edmonds station, the disabled woman robbed of her iPad or the women harassed at the Joyce Street station in recent weeks are typical victims.

SkyTrain police did not prevent any of these incidents for the same reasons beat policing doesn’t stop all street crime.

Still, municipal police or the RCMP could as easily have done the followup investigations, checked the surveillance videos and dealt with the cases.

If we want patrols on buses, incorporate them into the mandate of the regular policing agencies.

The most recent audit of the Transit force didn’t bother to address whether a regional force, joint municipal-RCMP patrols on the system or even private security coupled with more staff could be as effective and cheaper.

The attitude is just keep taking taxpayers for a ride.

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