When the Evergreen Extension starts operating Friday at noon, a host of police agencies will be ready to ensure passengers' safety, including eight new transit cops.
The additional staff were announced Monday by Transit Police Chief Officer Doug LePard, who said the new hires are being built into the 2017 budget and recruitment plans to reflect the thousands of additional passengers who will be using transit by next week.
"We want to make sure we can provide the same level of service in Coquitlam and Port Moody that we do on the rest of the system, without degrading our services elsewhere," LePard told The Tri-City News.
Transit Police are designed to be a supplementary police service, supporting city police departments and RCMP detachments, so riders can expect to see a mix of uniforms in the stations and on the trains.
The new Transit Police officers will be strategically deployed to meet shifting needs across the transit system, LePard added.
"The workload and demands are dynamic," he said. "It's different on a Saturday night than it is on a Sunday morning."
Coquitlam RCMP's officer in charge, Supt. Sean Maloney, and Port Moody Police Chief Const. Chris Rattenbury say they're also prepared for the line's opening.
Coquitlam added a dozen new Mounties and formed the Uniformed Crime Reduction Unit (UCRU), which will add to the general duty contingent during peak times and provide increased enforcement in crime hot spot areas.
PoMo is banking on data from SFU's Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies and the 2014 Transit Police-commissioned report, which found a crime spike associated with the Evergreen Extension isn't likely to happen. Instead, the PMPD formed the Community Action Team back in January, using existing officers in a more targeted way.
"It will be more proactive and high-visibility, it will be uniforms in parking lots and SkyTrain stations, riding the trains if we have to," Rattenbury said. "It's being proactive, being really visible and making sure people know we're there."
The Tri-Cities have been waiting a long time for SkyTrain, but even while lobbying for the rapid transit system to make its way to the northeast sector, there was concern about whether it would bring increased crime along with it.
But police say they believe that's not likely to happen.
"The research has been really clear that SkyTrain does not bring crime to a community," LePard said.
What it does bring is more development and densification, and that increased population means more instances of crime — but not an increase in the crime rate (i.e., the number of crimes per 100,000 people).
The level of crime along the SkyTrain network also depends on the community in which it travels.
"There are certain areas of Vancouver and elsewhere that the Expo Line goes through that were already problematic," said LePard, a former Vancouver Police officer. "But the Canada Line came along and goes through different areas, it has a different demographic. We didn't see any increase in crime at all in terms of the rate."
Transit Police measure crime rates per 100,000 boarded passengers and, given there are a million trips a day, the number of crimes is relatively small and SkyTrain is a safe way to travel, LePard said.
The 2014 Woodrow Analytics study found the Evergreen Extension wouldn't have a significant impact on crime rates in the Tri-Cities because it's replacing an existing bus route along a major transportation corridor and will travel through areas that are already crime hot spots.
The report found the majority of violent crimes have already been clustered in a 500 m buffer around Evergreen stations in both Coquitlam and Port Moody, though stations with nearby park-and-ride lots may see an increase in property crime.
But despite the relatively low levels of new crime associated with SkyTrain and the introduction of Compass cards and fare gates, LePard said there's still a need for the combined efforts of both the jurisdictional and transit cops.
"The people who cause problems with disorder, or because they're mentally ill or engaged in crime, they still come to our attention and we're still arresting just as many of them," he said, noting Transit Police are arresting about the same number of people wanted on warrants from across Metro Vancouver as they were before fare gates were installed.
Those criminals are using SkyTrain as a mode of transportation, LePard said, not to victimize the general public, and commuters, families and young people should feel feel safe getting on the Evergreen Extension.
One exception is the issue of women being groped while on the train.
Tuesday morning, LePard announced a new public awareness strategy with posters throughout transit to remind offenders that "unwanted touching is a crime" and asking anyone who has experienced assaults on transit to contact police.
"It's one of our operational priorities," LePard said. "We've been successful in solving more than two-thirds of them. There's CCTV everywhere, so we see exactly what's happened."
APP FOR THAT
Evergreen stations have been designed with safety as a key factor.
Parking lots are open and stations are built with large amounts of glass, bright lighting and wide open spaces, and bright yellow safety boxes are positioned near station entrances and include an emergency telephone.
"It's preventative action," LePard said. "And the SkyTrain attendants are part of that — they're our eyes and ears… There's CCTV everywhere that is monitored continuously."
About a quarter of the incidents Transit Police handle are witnessed while another quarter are reported to police by SkyTrain staff. The rest is made up of calls for assistance from jurisdictional police.
But there are a number of ways SkyTrain travellers can ensure their own safety.
The most important way to do that is to plan your trip ahead of time and appear confident in where you are going. Stay alert to your surroundings, even when wearing headphones, know where to get help and don't hesitate to use them.
If you're on the train and need help, tap the yellow strip silent alarm above the windows to alert SkyTrain security.
And if you need to discreetly send information to Transit Police, use the text code 87 77 77 or the Transit Police OnDuty App.
When it comes to ensuring you return to your vehicle, intact, at the end of your day, Rattenbury and Maloney say all the regular rules apply: Remove all valuables from your vehicle, ensure windows and doors are locked and park in well-lit areas.