Toronto police deploying dozens of officers to patrol city’s transit system after surge in violence – Canada

After a recent surge of violent incidents on the TTC, police are increasing the “daily presence” of officers within the city’s transit system effective Thursday, Police Chief Myron Demkiw said.

Upwards of 80 police officers will be in place throughout the transit system every day, he said, in an effort to enhance public safety and prevent “crimes of opportunity,” he said.

“Our officers will be on, in and around the transit system across the city throughout the day and late into the evening, each and every day.”

Demkiw appeared at a news conference Thursday alongside Mayor John Tory and TTC CEO Rick Leary, among others, to respond to an increase in attacks on streetcars, buses and on the subway. 

Demkiw said the officers who will be patrolling the TTC will be doing so on an overtime capacity, as to not compromise efforts to improve response times for police calls across the city.

It’s unclear how much this plan will cost, but Demkiw said police will monitor the situation “day-to-day, week-to-week” to see what costs will be, and are “prepared to scale as required.”

WATCH | Police chief announces more officers for the TTC:

Toronto police will increase presence on transit, chief announces

Police Chief Myron Demkiw said upwards of 80 police officers will be in place throughout the transit system every day in an effort to enhance public safety and prevent “crimes of opportunity.”

Leary said the TTC will also be adding more special constables, outreach workers, supervisors and uniform employees to the system, as well as adding to and improving security camera systems.

“These individuals are there to help our customers,” Leary said, adding that the transit system is a “microcosm” of wider issues playing out in the city.

“We don’t know exactly what is behind these incidents,” he said. “But we know that the root causes are complex and they’re going to require a co-ordinated approach and response.”

Incidents of violence

On Thursday, police said four teenagers had been arrested after a group allegedly shot at a subway passenger with a BB gun, marking just one of several reported cases of violence in under a week on the city’s transit system.

In that time, a 16-year-old boy was seriously injured in a stabbing on a bus, police reported separate incidents involving harassment and assault against TTC employees, and a resident was stabbed several times while on a streetcar. A person was also arrested after allegedly chasing two TTC workers with a syringe.

In response to the violence, Tory called for a summit that would see mayors, ministers, premiers and the prime minister discuss how to better support people living with mental health and addictions challenges.

Tory said Thursday he understands some passengers are anxious and scared, and officials are doing what they can to make sure transit riders and employees alike are safe.

“The TTC must be safe for everyone, without exception,” he said.

WATCH | Calling for changes:

Attacks on Toronto transit users, staff prompts calls for task force

The union representing transit workers across Canada is calling for a safety task force following a series of violent attacks on Toronto transit users and staff. But the problem is not limited to Toronto.

The mayor also said the city needs funding help from other levels of government — both for additional police officers and special constables, and for investments in social services and mental health.

Toronto police say that in light of the recent incidents, officers have been encouraged to engage with passengers and TTC operators when they are on duty and provide a visible policing presence on transit.

But not everyone thinks increased enforcement is the answer. Shelagh Pizey-Allen, director of an advocacy group of TTC users called TTCRiders, previously told CBC News that Black and Indigenous transit users end up over represented in enforcement actions.

“We think that expanding policing is actually going to make some people less safe and also won’t tackle the root of the problem,” she said. Instead, she said, it would be better to bring in more “supportive staff” for issues of mental health and crisis intervention.

“We’re worried that TTC service cuts and fare increases are only going to drive riders away and make the system less safe.”

‘We are at a breaking point’: union local president

Cities outside Toronto are also witnessing an increase of violence on their transit networks. The Amalgamated Transit Union Canada, representing 35,000 transit workers, called for a national task force to tackle violence against workers and riders on public transit systems across the country.

ATU Local 113, the union local that represents 12,000 transit workers across Toronto, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday, asking that federal assistance and resources be allocated to issues of mental health and homelessness.

“We are at a breaking point. We’re in a situation where we have members saying they are in fear,” said Marvin Alfred, Local 113 president.

“We have Torontonians saying they are looking at options other than the TTC, which increases costs and emissions, versus taking public transit because they are too scared.”

WATCH | Finding the root causes of violence:

‘We need to tackle the root causes,’ says transit union president

ATU Local 113 president Marvin Alfred says that while extra police patrols will help keep Toronto transit a safe place for employees and passengers, that alone will not solve the true cause of the problems they face.

The TTC’s latest CEO report from earlier this month shows reports of violence against customers spiked in early 2020 and has ebbed and flowed since then — but has not dropped back down to pre-pandemic levels.

The report also shows offences against employees have risen since 2017, peaking in the spring of last year.

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