Edmonton·Exclusive

Union reports problems with $6M 'observe and report' security at Edmonton transit centres

Edmonton's transit union is flagging persistent problems with a private security detail the city hired last November at a price tag of nearly $6 million a year. 

Complaints include sleeping on the job, panhandling, harassment, slow response

A security guard patrols the platform at Stadium Station on Tuesday. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Edmonton's transit union is flagging persistent problems with a private security company hired by the city last November at a price tag of nearly $6 million a year. 

Securiguard provides round-the-clock patrols at 25 transit stations that have a track record of violent incidents. 

The security presence is meant to deter crime and social disorder and make people feel more comfortable taking transit.

City council approved the "highly visible" security guards two months after a bus driver was stabbed more than a dozen times at the Mill Woods Transit Centre. 

Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, said there have been problems reported with the security guards since they started. 

"We're getting all kinds of complaints about them sleeping on the job, not following proper procedure, harassing people, patrons at the stations. There's been all kinds of complaints and issues." 

The Amalgamated Transit Union captures a Securiguard member sitting down at a transit centre. (Amalgamated Transit Union)

The complaints come from a variety of sources including bus drivers, LRT conductors, peace officers and the public.

"I've witnessed it myself," Tetterington said. 

He saw a private security guard at Eaux Claires Transit Centre.

"He was sleeping — in his car." 

Mark Tetterington, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 569, reviews several complaints from union members and the public about security guards' conduct. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

In one instance, a bus driver found a guard sleeping in a bathroom at Stadium Station.

Another guard was seen panhandling at Bay/Enterprise Station.

Edmonton Transit Service manager Eddie Robar said the city has received complaints about the guards' conduct but couldn't provide CBC News with specifics on how many complaints there have been or the exact nature of them.

He said he's aware that some Securiguard staff have been fired because of performance problems. He said the city works directly with the company to resolve those issues.

Peace officer, ETS inspectors and the city's corporate security office monitor the situation, Robar said. 

'Observe and report'

Wearing neon yellow vests with reflector strips and "Security" written in big letters on the back, the guards are highly visible. 

Under the contract, the security guards can't physically interfere in altercations or assaults. 

It's a job Robar describes as "observe and report."

"They're all trained to a level of what they're allowed to interject with and what they aren't, so they have a pretty strict procedure in which they're either calling our control centre, they can call EPS directly in certain situations."

Commuters at Churchill Square Tuesday were surprised at the job description.

Jessica Foy takes the LRT every day between Clareview and downtown. 

"They stand around most of the time, they're not doing a whole lot of anything, so I'm not sure what kind of security they're providing," Foy told CBC News. 

Tiffany Redwood regularly takes the LRT from Century Park to downtown. 

"You can't break nothing up then what's the point? What are you going to do, cry wolf?" Redwood asked. "I can cry wolf for myself." 
Tiffany Redwood was just one commuter CBC News spoke with who was unfamiliar with the role of the private security guards. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Some of the complaints include situations where a security guard took 20 minutes before calling police or the control centre when a transit user was injured, Tetterington said. 

Since November, the Securiguard patrollers have called the transit control centre just over 4,300 times, ETS Safety and Security reported. Calls related to loitering, mischief, smoking, medical emergencies and lost children.

'Is it effective?'

The project is under review. Robar's ETS team and the police are slated to report back to council in October on whether the security has reduced crime. 

"We'll kind of pull out the empirical evidence of what's been working well and what's not," Robar said. "Is it effective? And is it having the impact? Has this been worth the investment for the public?"

Robar said the review will include looking at where the guards are placed and consider relocating guards from centres with a fewer safety-related incidents to those more. 
Mark Tetterington with the ATU said a guard was sleeping in a vehicle outside a transit centre. (Mark Tetterington)

Cases of mischief like loitering, littering and graffiti are down since the security started patrolling, Robar noted. 

While the city recorded 617 mischief-related incidents at transit centres and LRT stations between Nov. 1, 2017 and July 30, 2018, the number fell to 311 reported cases between Nov. 1, 2018 and July 30, 2019.

In October 2018, police reported 2,072 transit-related incidents that year, 230 of which were under criminal investigation.

Police said they couldn't provide statistics yet for the comparable timeframe this year, as they are still compiling the data for a report to council in the fall. 

Coun. Mike Nickel said he takes the issue to heart, especially since a bus driver was stabbed at the Mill Woods Transit Centre in his southeast ward last September.

"People in the administration aren't watching or monitoring the productivity or the staff that's on the ground," Nickel said in a phone interview. "This is this is just a simple reminder wake-up call — step up do your job."

Nickel said the city needs to do better at monitoring and managing its contracts. 

The ATU supports having more security but believes the key is hiring more peace officers to take over.

"I don't really care who does the job — it can be unionized, it can be non-unionized, it can be city worker, it could be non-city worker," Nickel said. "We pay people we need value out of these contracts."

@natashariebe

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