Is increased crime around transit hubs real or perceived?
Metro Vancouver Transit Police’s Const. Amanda Steed says transit corridors bring a “more diverse criminal,” while Surrey RCMP’s Cpl. Vanessa Munn says it’s a little bit of chicken or the egg.
Steed, transit police’s media relations officer, told the Now-Leader she sees crime everyday, “so it does exist.”
But does crime increase?
“I don’t think so, but I think it brings a more diverse criminal,” Steed noted.
“Now, I don’t have any statistics to say one way or another that it has increased. I think there are more types of criminals that can access, say, Coquitlam for an example, that would have necessarily been able to access that city before,” she said, referring to the Evergreen extension of the Millenium Line into Port Moody and Coquitlam.
Steed, however, said safety “is very subjective.”
“How someone feels, whether or not they’re safe on the transit system is really based on past experiences, or whether or not they have access to constant bombardment of crime.”
She said that while police, specifically in Vancouver, have noted an uptick in stranger assaults, “thousands of people ride the trains and buses every day without issue.”
“I think it’s not necessarily increasing specifically on transit and the only time you’re seeing us in the news is if we’re highlighting something that is a crime that unfortunately did happen and we usually are asking for the public’s assistance in helping to identify a suspect which usually ends in that person being identified and arrested and charged.”
Steed said Metro Vancouver Transit Police is a “numbers game” and a “statistics-based service, so the way we police is based off of numbers, so the way we deploy our officers is based off numbers. That being said, there is an increased amount of need for police in Surrey.”
She added she does “agree to a certain extent that Surrey does require more policing than, say, other cities,” but transit police also work with their jurisdictional police partners – Surrey RCMP.
“Specifically in hubs like Surrey Central, Gateway, anywhere where you have a major hub, you’re going to have criminals who try and use that hub to their advantage which is what we’re seeing at Surrey Central with a huge influx of drugs, weapons and crime.
“We are working daily to try and combat that but it’s difficult.”
Steed pointed to Surrey Central and Gateway being “more established,” with more businesses and resources in the surrounding area.
“King George has always been like a transition hub, it hasn’t really been conducive to people loitering or gathering because there was really nothing around there. It was just residential,” she explained. “But now they’re building up sort of businesses … and I find the more you bring resources to the criminals, they’re going to hang out. They don’t have to go anywhere, everything they need is being brought to them.”
But Dean Barbour, the executive director of the Fleetwood Business Improvement Association, said “a lot of concerns you will hear will be about safety and crime coming down the SkyTrain line.”
“I want to be able to see somebody walk out of the SkyTrain at 1 in the morning or 8 in the morning and feel confident and safe because there’s people around, there’s activities around,” said Barbour, noting that he’s “confident” that will be the case with lighting, development and people working together.
Asked if areas with higher density, like those surrounding transit stations, can help with vigilance, Surrey RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Vanessa Munn said “It’s a little bit chicken-egg, you could say.”
“Yes, it’s more densely populated. You’re likely to see higher crime statistics, however, that could also be due to the fact that it’s more densely populated,” she explained.
“I’d say the denser population could go both ways. Potentially, there’s more witnesses, more people to intervene should a crime occur.
“But usually when we see maybe more not-as-densely populated residential neighbourhoods, people build more bonds with the people within their neighbourhoods and engage with things like block watch programs and they notice when people are out of place or something looks suspicious because they know who’s supposed to be there.
“When there’s more people around, you may not notice that somebody’s out of place.”
But Steed acknowledged it could lead to “more sets of eyes” keeping watch.
“During peak rush hour, there’s hundreds of people on a platform or on a train, so you do sort of have that safe and secure feeling that you can rely on,” she noted. “At night, with passenger levels not quite as high, some people may feel like they’re unsafe.
“I think the most important takeaway from this is again educating people on how to protect themselves and what to do if something comes up and they feel scared.
“But I think with the more people you find on the system, you do have more sets of eyes. If we educate people properly on what to do in these types of scenarios, then yeah, I think it will help get people to call us and we can help quickly.”
That education, she said, includes Metro Vancouver Transit Police’s text line, security features on the train and at stations and tips on social media.
With the text line, Steed said “There’s this common misconception that I have to wait for someone to assault me or I have to wait until I’m sure. No, no you don’t. We don’t want you to wait.”
When it comes to more officers being hired for the extension, Steed said Vancouver was just approved for 18 more transit officers as the Broadway line is expected to be completed before the Surrey-Langley extension.
But she doesn’t know yet how many officers will be hired for the Expo line extension.
“I know what we ask for and what is approved, are two totally different things.”