Police officers have already started riding Winnipeg Transit buses to improve safety for drivers and passengers, despite a formal plan still being a "work in progress."
Thorne tells police board officers on buses has already started and there won't be 'ribbon-cutting' announcing they are doing it. #cbcmb— @SKKav
Members of the Winnipeg Police Board were presented on Friday with the plan to put police officers and cadets on transit buses. During the presentation, deputy police chief Dave Thorne said it has already begun without a big "ribbon-cutting."
Earlier this week, chief Devon Clunis said funding for the plan had already been worked out between Winnipeg Transit and the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS). However, there was no indication given that it had been launched.
The proposal calls cadets to ride on or check buses and bus shelters as part of their duties, while officers, particularly downtown, will attempt to ride buses during their shifts and when their duties allow.
Officers will also be encouraged to take the bus to their areas of assigned responsibilities, Clunis said on Monday as he outlined the plan that would be presented to the board.
Police Board's Mary Jane Loustel says perhaps officers could be given bus passes and chose whether they want to take bus to work. #cbcmb— @SKKav
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit drivers, reported last month that violence against drivers went up by 54 per cent between 2014 and 2015.
The head of the union, John Callahan, also spoke to the police board Friday, saying his members face continual threats of violence and intimidation while driving the buses and most major cities have some form of security on their transit systems.
Two-thirds of the assaults drivers face are over fare collection, Callahan said, praising the initiative to have the officers and cadets on board.
- Winnipeg Transit drivers face escalating violence, says union
- Winnipeg Transit driver attacked on bus during afternoon rush hour
- Winnipeg bus beating witness shocked by violent attack
"Transit drivers are citizens and deserve protection," Thorne told the police board on Friday.
The board enthusiastically supported the plan, even though the Winnipeg Police Association (WPA) — the union for rank-and-file officers — earlier this week said it had concerns.
WPA president Maurice Sabourin said the collective agreement prevents cadets from being used for "special enforcement projects," which he believes the bus patrols would be.
The agreement also prevents cadets from being put at risk of incidents such as the ones transit drivers have reported, Sabourin said, noting cadets don't carry guns and are not as well-equipped as police officers.
"They only have intermediate weapons which doesn't allow them to deal with, say, a knife attack or a lethal force encounter," he said Tuesday, ahead of Friday's meeting.
"Safety is a huge issue because on a moving bus, there's no escape route for them if they get into a situation where they'd have to turn and run."
On Friday, Thorne thanked the WPA for its input and agreed there are some things the cadets cannot do because "they are not officers." Instead, it is hoped their presence alone will act as a deterrent, he said.
"They are a presence … for crime prevention. They are ambassadors," he said.
Thorne told the board the strategy is a "work in progress" and still needs plenty of scrutiny.
"It's not cut in stone," he said, adding the strategy will be based on data and adjusted accordingly.