Province ‘encouraging’ Calgary, Edmonton to transfer transit officer command to police

Alberta provincial officials are ‘encouraging’ local governments in Calgary and Edmonton to transfer control and command of transit peace officers to local police, as both cities grapple with rising crime on its transit systems.

The suggestion came as part of Tuesday’s announcement that the provincial government would help with funding to recruit, hire and train 100 new police officers between Calgary and Edmonton.

According to a provincial news release, the transfer of command would “enable the police to better lead a coordinated and strategic response to the increase in violent crime on public transit.”

In response to the suggestion from the province, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said integrated work between the Calgary Police Service and transit peace officers is already ongoing in the city without a transfer of command.

Read more: Alberta government to fund 100 more police officers in Calgary, Edmonton

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“I’m happy to tell you that the professional and trust-based relationship that has been fostered by our teams at the police service as well as transit and administration in our city is already doing this work,” Gondek said Tuesday.

In a statement to Global News, the City of Calgary said transit peace officers have a collaborative and integrated relationship with the Calgary Police Service with “a proven track record of collaboration.”

City officials cited a transit peace officers’ roles in a recent undercover police operation that resulted in 268 charges against dozens of people accused of drug trafficking on the city’s CTrain line.

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“It is a very close integration,” Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld told Global News. “Typically it will be project-based initiatives and activities that take place, but it’s going to be an ongoing integration of working together.”

On Monday, city officials and police announced a new enforcement strategy on transit that includes overnight partnered patrols with police and peace officers operating seven nights a week, up from the current four nights per week.

Read more: City of Calgary, police change enforcement strategy on transit

There has also been informal collaboration between transit peace officers and police at two safety hubs in the city’s downtown core, which are spaces officers can share information on problemed areas and individuals that both transit officers and police encounter on duty.

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However, the city’s top cop said there are some ways coordination and collaboration between transit officers and police could improve in the, including data collection and sharing, and coordinating dispatch across the system.

On-the-ground communication like radios is another area Neufeld noted as a gap in the system.

“One of the challenges right now is if a transit peace officer had an emergency, they could be in very close proximity to a police officer, but they don’t talk to one another,” Neufeld said.

“Those are some of the things that very quickly could be addressed that would actually help the integration and coordination of resources.”

Neufeld said addressing rising violent crime on transit is the focus in the short term, with longer term attention on a sustainable transit safety model as the city continues to expand.

“It’s critical that transit peace officers and police officers in all communities work together effectively,” Neufeld said. “Part of that is the realization that there needs to be that high level coordination that cascades down to the boots on the street.”

Read more: Canada’s police chiefs request urgent meeting with the premiers: ‘Policing is at a crossroad’

Kelly Sundberg, a criminologist at Mount Royal University, said he believes coordination of resources between police and transit peace officers is working well, working on an evidence-based approach to address the increase in crime on the transit system.

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Responding to the province’s suggestion to transfer command of peace officers to local police, Sundberg accused provincial politicians of politicizing a complex issue unfolding on the city’s transit network.

“I think it is really short-sighted. It is just simple politicking and it would waste public money,” Sundberg said.

“This isn’t something to  trivialize or to politicize, this is something for us to address, because these are people’s lives we’re talking about, this is the safety of our communities.”

The Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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