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Q. How many times have transit police been obliged to draw their firearms?

Answer: Whoever wants to know this is REALLY anxious to find out, as s/he has sent in this question three times over the past six months. I have not been ignoring it. It took me a while to get around to it and get answers, although I suspect the questioner won’t be satisfied with them.

(I assume all questions have agendas. There are two possible for this one: 1. To show transit police are randomly drawing their guns and are irresponsible pretend police waving their weapons arounds like kids playing cops and robbers 2. To show that transit police end up in really dangerous situations and we the public should be aware of that.)

Okay, enough with that. Here are the answers:

Anne Drennan, the former VPD media relations queen, now helping out TransLink police, found out this for me in early September:

In 2011, 19 of our members drew their firearms in 10 incidents. In 2012 thus far, 13 of our members have drawn their firearms in 8 incidents.
I then followed up by asking what the TP’s policy is on when firearms can be drawn and what kinds of incidents they have had to drawn their firearms in.
That took a while longer. I got an answer from the relatively new head of Transit Police, Neil Dubord, arrived here in February from his previous post with Edmonton police.
He said the transit-police policy on use of force “aligns with police services” and that policy is available on the website. (I found it here.) Transit police get the same training at the Justice Institute on use of weapons as regular police forces. “The training is identical.”
Some of the incidents where transit police have had to draw their guns recently: A man was spotted waving around a sword in Metrotown. He then got on SkyTrain and went down to the Burrard station. When he got there, officers had set up a containment zone and had their weapons drawn. In another, transit police got a report of a youth group with a gun (it turned out, in the end, to be fake) and officers had their weapons drawn as they approached the group at “low ready.”
Has anyone had to fire a gun so far? “By the grace of God, no,” said Dubord, who, if you hadn’t already guessed, is from Saskatchewan. (Moose Jaw, to be precise.)
Just to show you what a great command of Google I have, here is a letter from the B.C.Civil Liberties Association in 2008, complaining about the transit police use of tasers.
  • As the persistent questioner, I have to point out that there was in fact a third and actual agenda: to show that there is no genuine need to have another armed militia in our city. I thank you for your efforts in finding this out for me. Much as I hate tasers, I’d rather them than guns.

  • Frances Bula

    @Jak. Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Theo

    @Jak: I would rather have guns than tasers. Police in this city seem to think tasers are toys to fire at will.

  • How often do they draw their ticket books? For a supposed crackdown on fare evaders, the transit police sure spend a lot of time standing around chatting, when they could be doing fare checks on the Skytrain platform. Not paying ya to chat up the pretty Translink worker fellas!

    My disappointing transit police experience:

    Disembark from the Canada Line at Broadway and Cambie. Walk past two transit officers outside the station. Point out the woman in a black SUV, blocking the crosswalk and talking on her handheld mobile.

    Response: “What do you want me to do about it?”

    Thanks officer, my ten year old daughter standing beside me just got an object lesson in why I try to counter the prevailing LEO-worship with a dose of reality.

  • Andrew Browne

    Time to disband the transit police given that we have our new saviour being installed: faregates. If we keep the transit police the return on investment will take around 45 years if memory serves. If we disband the force or reduce their numbers (which we SHOULD be able to do given that the faregates were justified with crime and safety in mind), then this probably drops to about 15 years.

    Heck, we could even disband the force and replace every 3rd officer with a station attendant and actually enjoy some customer service.

    The whole concept of transit police is just so odd. Why can’t we use the normal police we already pay for? We don’t have community centre police, or movie theatre police, or bowling alley police. I realize there may be some communication and boundary issues but surely we can work these through if officers actually wanted to be helpful. Regional policing would help, obviously.

    I still don’t see why we need police officers giving out fare evasion tickets. We don’t have police officers giving out parking tickets. We can have a small, nimble transit police force to deal with instances of actual violence. Police should not be fare checking – it’s a huge, huge waste of money to pay a wage that high to write a few fare evasion tickets. We can use any Translink staff for that, not a constable earning $100k.

  • Andrew Browne

    Had another thought… I realize my analogy about community centres and similar facilities is flawed, because they generally don’t traverse municipal boundaries. But roads and highways do. How the heck do we routinely deal with that? Because it seems to function just fine, and to my mind there isn’t a reason a transit line shouldn’t work out the same way re: utilizing existing policing resources.

  • Jason White

    Yes, highways do cross municipal boundaries. And, lo and behold, we police them with dedicated units (the RCMP Traffic Services units) that also cross those boundaries…just like the Transit Police.

  • Andrew Browne

    I get what you’re saying Jason but I don’t think it’s equivalent. That’s just specialization within a force (e.g. we don’t have homicide detectives on the radar gun). A traffic enforcement unit within existing police forces is not equivalent to a standalone police unit (like transit police). It’s just a department for budgeting and scheduling within their organization.

  • Andrew Browne

    And where highways cross into municipalities without RCMP (like Port Moody, West Vancouver, or Vancouver) they are enforced by local police. They’re not lawless Mad Max-esque wastelands.

  • Raingurl

    Transit Police. I still laugh at those words. I laughed the day they came out of the closet and I’ll laugh the day we put them back in. Transit Police……….I still laugh at those words……..

  • Jason White


    I’m afraid that isn’t correct. The RCMP highway patrol units are detachments in their own right, and they do their work even in cities that have their own police departments, like West Vancouver and Delta. The obvious benefit is that if you’re reporting an impaired driver eastbound from Horseshoe Bay on the highway, you don’t have to be passed through a patchwork quilt of police agencies as the drinker travels through West Van, North Van, Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey. Similarly, a problem on a SkyTrain doesn’t have to be passed from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as the train moves along.

  • Andrew Browne

    I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s one thing for forces to have concurrent jurisdiction in the event of a pursuit or similar event (a good operating arrangement, I think everyone can agree), but one NEVER sees RCMP doing any sort of standalone enforcement on Hwy 1 through West Vancouver or on that portion of the Barnet Highway that is in Port Moody, for example. Similarly, the RCMP would not initiate traffic enforcement on Hwys 7 or 99 through Vancouver. So on the face of it how we observe policing function in Greater Vancouver would seem to contradict what you’re saying.

    I’m glad they’re able to continue a pursuit, and I think this meshes nicely with the idea that we should be able to coordinate transit policing across separate police forces w/o need for a dedicated force.

    Maybe our confusion is coming from the use of the word detachment? There are a number of local RCMP detachments and all of them seem to do highway and traffic enforcement, so it seems, on its face, very odd that you would say there is a RCMP highway patrol unit that is a detachment in its own right. I don’t for a moment question that there are dedicated units for traffic enforcement (just as there are for serious crimes, drug enforcement, et al), but I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest that there is some kind of standalone highway patrol police force – they are part of RCMP E Division and are present at every local RCMP detachment in some number.

  • Jason White

    Specifically, Deas Island Highway Patrol is a stand-alone detachment, with its own detachment commander. So is Port Mann Highway Patrol, and the one out in the Fraser Valley (the office is in Chilliwack, but the actual name of the unit escapes me right at the moment). None of these units are attached to other detachments, and the members duties are traffic, period.
    I encourage you to look these units up on your own, to confirm what I’m saying. Until you understand that they exist, my argument does look baseless.

  • Bill Lee

    And are they equipped to deal with “bombs” ?

    A common method is to shoot a shotgun at it, to tear it apart, have it explode etc.

    I find the the Transit Police are very unprofessional and wonder if they had failed elsewhere to take on well-paid transit duties.
    Failed in Department, Go in Transit.