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Keeping the peace on transit

Board discusses putting undercover cops on buses

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2015 (1361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's police chief says he's open to having officers ride transit buses to keep drivers and passengers safe.

"I'm open to considering anything that will enhance public safety," Devon Clunis said Friday. "I am willing to look at it."

Clunis said he'll need to see cost estimates, but putting plainclothes officers on buses on unsafe routes wouldn't be difficult for the police service, he said.

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

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2015 (1361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's police chief says he's open to having officers ride transit buses to keep drivers and passengers safe.

"I'm open to considering anything that will enhance public safety," Devon Clunis said Friday. "I am willing to look at it."

Clunis said he'll need to see cost estimates, but putting plainclothes officers on buses on unsafe routes wouldn't be difficult for the police service, he said.

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

'I'm open to considering anything that will enhance public safety'— Winnipeg Police Service Chief Devon Clunis (left), on the possibility of putting police on transit buses

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president John Callahan, who's been pushing for police to ride buses to protect drivers, told the police board Friday he believes a pilot project could begin with little to no cost to the 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 from 2011 to 2015, most commonly being spat 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 armed with 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 officers ride buses and keep an eye out for distracted drivers and street crime.

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

Bus passengers load buses in downtown Winnipeg.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bus passengers load buses in downtown Winnipeg.

"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 cadets involved, he said.

Cadets are civilian members of the 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 transit bylaw was introduced last year, there was talk about cadets riding 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 meeting with support from St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard and Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy. Both said the plan could help 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 steering committee supports the plan, the board would ask the police service to review 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.

— 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 Monday, February 1, 2016 at 4:57 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Van Mackelbergh.

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