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Police chief open to placing officers on city buses

"I'm open to considering anything that will enhance public safety," Police Chief Devon Clunis said Friday.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

"I'm open to considering anything that will enhance public safety," Police Chief Devon Clunis said Friday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/10/2015 (1352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s police chief says he’s open to the idea of police riding Winnipeg transit buses to keep drivers and passengers safe.

“I’m open to considering anything that will enhance public safety,” Winnipeg Police Service chief Devon Clunis said Friday.

“If that’s part of it, I am willing to look at it.”

Clunis said he’ll first need to see reports and cost estimates, but implementing policies to put plainclothes officers on some bus routes wouldn’t be difficult for the police service, he said.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/10/2015 (1352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s police chief says he’s open to the idea of police riding Winnipeg transit buses to keep drivers and passengers safe.

"I’m open to considering anything that will enhance public safety," Winnipeg Police Service chief Devon Clunis said Friday.

"If that’s part of it, I am willing to look at it."

Clunis said he’ll first need to see reports and cost estimates, but implementing policies to put plainclothes officers on some bus routes wouldn’t be difficult for the police service, he said.

The police board hasn’t made a decision on the proposal, but it will be discussed at the next meeting of the police board’s strategic planning steering committee.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president John Callahan, who’s been pushing for police to ride transit as a way to protect drivers’ safety, told the police board Friday he believes a pilot project could begin with little to no cost to the Winnipeg Police Service.

"Nobody wants to be a police state, but at the same time, there’s been a free-for-all for a while now. It’s time to take the necessary steps to ensure people’s safety," Callahan said.

There have been 45 assaults on Winnipeg Transit drivers this year, compared with 39 last year. Transit drivers reported being assaulted 225 times between 2011 and 2015, most commonly being spit on or verbally abused. Some have been punched, kicked or pepper-sprayed. Callahan shared a recent example of a driver who had to fight off an angry passenger who pulled out a knife.

The transit union has talked to the police union to find out how such a program could work here. Callahan said he’d like to see Winnipeg adopt a program similar to one in Staten Island, N.Y., where undercover police ride buses and also keep an eye out for distracted drivers and street crime.

Winnipeg Police Association vice-president George Van Mackelbergh said such a project is workable.

"It’s up to the service if they would do it or how it would roll out. What we wouldn’t want to see is anything that was outside the scope of duties of our people, we wouldn’t want to see our people supervised by transit supervisors," nor would the police union want the cadets brought in, he said.

Cadets civilian members of the Winnipeg Police Service. They have no power to make arrests or investigate crimes.

"We’re not putting anybody in unnecessary risk," Van Mackelbergh said.

When the city’s transit bylaw was introduced last year, there were discussions about having cadets ride buses, but the plan didn’t go ahead.

"There were a number of obstacles, mostly around funding and about supervision of our people," Van Mackelbergh said.

The proposal was discussed at Friday’s police board meeting with full support from St. Boniface councillor Matt Allard and Daniel McIntyre councillor Cindy Gilroy, who said the plan could go a long way toward helping women, in particular, feel safe taking transit.

Gilroy said she’s spoken to groups of women who fear waiting at bus stops at night, being attacked on buses or being followed home from their stops.

"They really go out of their way to make sure that they’re going on specific routes, or they think twice before taking transit more than, say, men," Gilroy said. "I think having police on the buses will just add that level of security that women need to feel confident about taking our public transportation."

Police Board chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham said if the police board’s strategic planning steering committee supports the plan, the board will ask the police service to conduct a review of how the program would work.

"If it was the will of the committee to take it that far, to ask the service to do a review, I would not be opposed to that," he said.

Security cameras were installed on Winnipeg Transit buses starting in 2008. They appeared to deter assaults on bus drivers at first – reported assaults declined for a while, Transit union president Callahan said, "but now it’s starting to creep up again."

A ridership code of conduct is also expected to be posted on Winnipeg Transit buses in the coming months.

-With files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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History

Updated on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 5:23 PM CDT: Adds comment from Police Association, video camera info

February 1, 2016 at 3:34 PM: Corrects spelling of Van Mackelbergh.

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