"A lot of people don't realize we are our own police agency," says Cst. Amanda Steed of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.
The Transit Police department receives the same training through the Justice Institute as other police agencies but they operate where the transit system runs. Its jurisdiction stretches 18,000 square kilometres.
Contrary to what people might expect, fare enforcement and similar TransLink-related issues are not Transit Police's main priorities.
"Our work is guided by four priorities in order to ensure that we are delivering the best service to passengers and citizens of the communities we police," says Steed. "When not attending traditional calls for service, these priorities allow our officers to focus their daily work and ensure we achieve our goals."
The agency's primary focus may surprise you—reducing sexual offences.
Why is reducing sexual offences Transit Police's number one priority?
"It can happen anywhere," Steed tells V.I.A. over the phone. Considering the sheer amount of people who ride the transit system (400,000 passengers rely on it daily), she says that offenders love the anonymity of the crowd.
Since 2018, Metro Vancouver Transit Police have been running a campaign against sexual offending on transit. Hundreds of ads were placed on SkyTrain cars, SkyTrain stations (including posters and LCD Screens), buses and bus stops.
Plainclothes officers also sometimes ride transit all day to create an "unwelcome environment for offenders," according to Steed.
The goal is to decrease the number of offences but also increase the number of incidents reported to police.
"Any sort of unwanted touching is sexual assault and we investigate it fully," she says, encouraging people who think they may have been groped to make a scene and be wrong rather than saying nothing and being right. "Think about the next person," she says.
In 2022, there were 150 reports of sex-related offences, including sex assault, indecent acts and voyeurism, up from the 138 incidents reported in 2021 but down from 167 in 2019.
What are the other Transit Police priorities?
In addition to reducing instances of sexual assault, Transit Police focus on reducing instances of frontline workplace assaults.
"We provide in-depth training for all frontline workers in order to help them recognize risks and apply de-escalation techniques to better protect themselves," says Steed. "We also develop individual safety plans for key offenders who are known to frequently threaten frontline staff and we share these plans with bus operators and supervisors to reduce the risk of assaults."
The last two primary Transit Police priorities are reportedly, "helping vulnerable people in crisis" and "building system resiliency"
Between 2022 and 2021, there was a 36.4 per cent increase in apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, which states, "a police officer or constable may apprehend and immediately take a person to a physician or nurse practitioner for examination if satisfied from personal observations, or information received, that the person is acting in a manner likely to endanger that person's own safety or the safety of others, and is apparently a person with a mental disorder."
It's an upward trend that began in 2014, according to Steed.
There were 107 apprehensions in 2021 and 146 in 2022 but "those numbers don’t even include all calls where there was a mental health component, just police apprehensions where someone is a danger to themselves or others," she says.