The Transit Patrol keeps the Toronto Transit Commission running smoothly and safely for its 1.5 million daily passengers by responding to crime trends on the system.
Whatever crime happens on the ground happens underground too, so the Transit Patrol is very much like a Divisional Community Response Unit, except city-wide, explains Staff Sergeant George Farrell, “wherever there is transit, we can go and deal with it.”
The transit officers provide a high-visibility presence within the transit system on subway cars, streetcars and buses with focus directed towards intelligence-led, strategic enforcement and identification of systematic problems related to the transit system. They work closely with the TTC’s Transit Enforcement Officers along with the Service’s 17 Divisions.
“We are there to provide support for Divisions, the community and the TTC to keep the transit system safe,” says Chris Fernandes, Superintendent of the Division Policing Support Unit (DPSU), who oversees the Transit Patrol.
“Traffic Services dealt with traffic issues and transit with safety and security – the two mandates were different,” explains Fernandes, of the move.
One of the main ways the Transit Patrol goes about keeping transit safe is by smarter policing says Fernandes. “We have a crime analyst assigned to us… and we focus on where we need to be on what day and what time of day,” Fernandes says.
“Sergeants have embraced this analysis and have been using it in the deployment of our officers in certain areas to deal with crime, disorder, traffic issues and any other reason we need to show that visibility and presence,” says Fernandes.
“We have always known that we have to be at Yonge and Bloor during rush hour, but now we’re able to enhance that due to crime analysis for us to find out what specifically is going on when those crowds are there… what are the underlying issues we need to deal with?” explains Fernandes.
The crime trends mirror those of anywhere else in the city with assaults and sexual assaults, thefts and mischief among the most common. However, there is an extra dynamic of these crimes being against not only passengers but TTC staff – who are often targets of threats and assaults.
Their presence in the system acts as a deterrent to violence on the system, whether it be fights among rival youth or street robberies for purses or cellphones.
Other than the intelligence-led method for smarter policing, Transit officers focus on creating an increased presence as way of crime prevention.
“It’s all about visible presence, look around, get to know people, enforce on platforms… hop on a train and do the same thing at the next platform,” says Farrell.
“Anytime you have police presence, crimes are less likely to happen,” adds Fernandes, noting crime analysis lets them know to be at specific stations after school so officers are in the right place at the right time.
“Our presence there is proactively deterring crime,” Fernandes says.
Transit officers also work with TTC staff to ensure things are running smoothly and safely for them. However, this interaction works two ways, as TTC staff also have a wealth of knowledge to share with police.
Farrell said his officers were aiding 52 Division in looking for a sexual assault suspect by circulating images of suspect photo at several TTC platforms.
“One collector recognized the man immediately and said he comes in between three to four,” says Farrell. The next day, police arrested him at 3:32 p.m.
Transit officers not only maintain a good relationship with collectors and drivers, they also work closely with the TTC’s Transit Enforcement Unit. Both police and TTC see themselves as gaining intelligence from each other.
TTC Head of Enforcement Mark Cousins, says police officers allow the TTC to increase eyes in the system.
“They are a force multiplier,” Cousins said.
While the TPU is around to enforce and help prevent crime, they are also the face of the Service for visitors to the city.
“A lot of the time people are seeing Toronto Police through our Transit Patrol officers,” says Fernandes, noting there are high expectations his officers provide customer service to everyone they come into contact with, not only those calling them for service. “Sometimes it’s just ‘Good Morning’ and a smile.”