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The TransLink Police Service — BC’s other “police force”

October 26, 2013

Unlike the Vancouver Police Department, but exactly like plumbers, and pipe fitters, our transit police put “We’re Hiring” signs on their vehicles. What’s not to take seriously?

They look like police, and they dress like police, and they even carry guns but the eight-year-old SCBCTAPS, or TransLink Police Service, or simply, “the transit police,” still seem more like jumped-up, over-paid, security guards. This incident from 2011, where a transit cop lost a bomb on a plane during a training exercise didn’t help their image.

This year, calls for their force to be disbanded have increased, as the transit police have proven to be quite ineffective at curbing fare evasion, and no one’s exactly sure what else they do, besides costing taxpayers a lot of money.

TransLink’s transit police in action — writing a ticket.

The Greater Vancouver transit system has had a security presence, since at least 1986, when our first SkyTrain rapid transit system opened in conjunction with the Expo 86 World’s Fair, held here in Vancouver.

SkyTrain ended up needing security, in part because none of the stations had fare gates, so fare evasion was fairly easy. And, what with it being essential free, police started seeing thieves from the Downtown Eastside, and elsewhere in Vancouver using SkyTrain to zip over to the next municipalities — Burnaby, and New Westminster — to break into cars, and homes, and be back in their ‘hood before you could yell “Stop thief.”

Then, in 1989, SkyTrain extended to Surrey, a crime capitol in it’s own right back then, making it a “free” train ride from Vancouver, and vice-verse. Police also saw an uptick of drug trafficking around SkyTrain stations.

Run-of-the-mill transit security guards, didn’t have the power to do more than call the police. SkyTrain became another reason why Vancouver Police were calling for more officers, and resources. The new regional transit authority called TransLink, wanted their own force, and they got it.

If they look like police, and dress like police, and talk like police…

The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service (SCBCTAPS), was introduced at the end 2005, by the Greater Vancouver Regional Transit Authority (TransLink) they were a new kind of  transit police; the 70 officers were the first transit police in Canada to carry guns, and operate with full police authority to investigate, enforce outstanding warrants, and drug laws, and make arrests, even outside the transit system.

“The new transit police force will enhance public safety throughout the SkyTrain route on buses, trains and stations and in the neighbourhoods that surround the depots,” said B.C. Solicitor General John Les as he unveiled the new force.

Eight years later, as of 2013, the SCBCTAPS force had 167 sworn officers, according to the Wikipedia entry. They make sure to drive the exact same Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors as the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). And now that the VPD are switching to Dodge Chargers, I’m sure the transit police will follow suit. The have almost all the accoutrements of a real police force, yet they still can’t get the same level of respect.

The SCBCTAPS stands alone against fare cheats

A major rationale for the creation of the transit police force was, and continues to be, curbing fare evasion, across the transit system, not just on the SkyTrain.

But, despite having such a high-powered police force, fare evasion was estimated — by TransLink itself — to have hit an all-time high of $17.6 million in 2012; up from $14.5 million in 2011.

And as of September 2012, ordinary, old fashioned, Transit Security Officers gained the authority to issue tickets for Fare Evasion, and, more significantly, TransLink finally decided to install fare gates in SkyTrain stations after all. According tho this Province newspaper item, TransLink expects the gates, which are being phased in as we write, to cut fare evasions by 30% in their first year.

…along with security guards, fare gates, and Compass cards

In addition to installing fare gates — expected to cost $171.3 million — TransLink has been testing a new evasion-proof “tap-and-go” payment system called the Compass Card, expected to cost at least $194 million. Beta testers have already found an easy way to fool the card into cutting the cost of a long trip by up to two-thirds, according to this CBC item.

Each new anti-fare evasion layer kicks another prop out from under the SCBCTAPS’ reason for existing, and gives long-time critics of the force, such as Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that much more ammunition. According to this CBC item, Bateman says the force pays nearly 60 of it’s 167 officers more than $100,000 each a year to perform fairly routine police work.

“Two-thirds of Transit Police files are fare checks, and a Vancouver Police Department audit showed the average transit cop works on less than ten serious or property crime files a year.”

Bateman has argues for years that the SCBCTAPS be scrapped. He suggests half its annual budget of $27 million should be invested in cheaper, more effective Transit Security, and the remainder of the budget, over $13 million, be put towards transit improvements.

A unaccountably flawed police force for an unaccountable transit authourity

The problem with TransLink’s transit police is, in fact a problem with TransLink, a body with a remarkable amount of authority, directed by a group of unelected, largely anonymous people, and not accountable to any one elected body, in any clear way.

Metro Vancouver mayors again blasted TransLink in a March 2013 report as, well, unaccountable — to anyone.

Thing is, everyone complains about TransLink, the provincial government, the municipalities, the general public, and for whatever reason, year-after-year, nothing is done. They appear to serve a useful function for both levels of government, perhaps as an indispensable dumping ground for insoluble transportation problems. Meaning, they’ll probably get to keep their tin toy police force. Nobody said life was fare.

From → Lower Mainland

One Comment
  1. Mr. Woodvine,

    Your article here worries me, that we as an organization haven’t engaged with the public enough – specifically, we haven’t shared and made known what we do for you.

    Recently we have been working very hard to share what we do on duty:
    – We bust fake ID operation that issued 2,000 fake ID cards
    – We lay charges of sexual exploitation
    – I share what we do, day-to-day, with VancityBuzz

    I appreciate that you touch on why the transit system needs police. I would love to share more of these facts and what we do to keep people safe. Please contact me anytime, or look for me on duty.


    Constable Graham Walker
    Community Relations Officer
    Metro Vancouver Transit Police

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