SkyTrain gets armed transit cops
Vancouver's rapid-transit system has become the first in the country to be patrolled by police who carry guns and have full police powers.
TransLink introduced the new armed force on Monday to patrol the SkyTrain, Sea Bus and West Coast Express train.
The officers have been given the authority to conduct investigations, enforce outstanding warrants, enforce drug laws and make arrests – even outside transit property.
"The new transit police force will enhance public safety throughout the SkyTrain route on buses, trains and stations and in the neighborhoods that surround the depots," said B.C. Solicitor General John Les as he unveiled the team.
The force currently consists of 70 officers, who work in shifts of 12 to 16 hours to covered transit terminals throughout the rapid-transit system.
Eventually the force will grow to 91 officers, the vast majority of them retirees drawn from other police forces.
That means the force will be much older than most police departments. And police chief Bob Kind Kind admits that is a concern.
Also a concern is the diversity of a force that will patrol a transit system ridden by a diverse population. Of the 70 officers on the job, just six of them are women, with just six others members of visible minorities.
All the officers have been trained in firearms and met the same qualifications that are needed to work for a municipal police force.
Officials defend need for guns
The plan to arm the transit police created controversy when it was first announced in March.
But Les defended the move, saying it was necessary because SkyTrain stations in Vancouver have traditionally been magnets for violence and street crime.
"It is about helping to build public confidence and safety," the solicitor general said. "We want to promote ridership and that can be accomplished when they feel safe."
Riders divided over armed force
Reaction from transit riders was mixed as the armed force hit the streets on Monday.
"I ride the SkyTrain alone at night and I have never not felt safe," one woman, who didn't give her name, told CBC News. "I do not really think there is a need for it."
But another rider, a young man, defended the force. "If it is a deterrent to any potential crime, I do not have a problem with it."