Hiring Practices, Training Key to Effective Transit Security

Posted on September 14, 2009 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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[IMAGE]SEPTA.jpg[/IMAGE]Today, with funding issues, the still looming threat of terrorist attacks and record numbers of passengers using public transit, many agencies are finding ways to stretch resources to ensure a safe experience on their bus or subway systems, as well as at stops and stations. There seems to be no clear-cut answer as to what form of enforcement works best. Seemingly, it's up to the agency to decide, depending on what its needs are. For some larger metropolitan areas a transit police force is necessary, while other agencies often work with their local police departments. Still, other agencies may choose to hire a private security firm with the authority to enforce a transit agency's rules and regulations and detain when necessary.

One common important thread to any of these levels of protection and enforcement, though, is that in all of these situations hiring the right people and providing effective training are important factors in ensuring transit system safety.

Working with local police

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is currently in the process of transitioning its special constables, which have the same power and authority as police officers but cannot carry firearms, to the authority of Toronto Police Services (TPS). The transition will create a combination of special constables and police officers that will patrol the entire system under one authority.

"By January 1 those officers will become employees of TPS, some of them may become police officers in the end, but there are still a number of unanswered questions about how that will work," explains Brad Ross, director of communications for the TTC. "Ultimately though, the transit patrol portion of what we do, with respect to system security, will be managed by the TPS and it will include police officers as it does today."

The TTC is currently in the process of going from 100 to 176 special constables as part of its six-year subway deployment plan, developed three years ago following a system security review in the wake of 9/11, the July 2005 terrorist attack in London and growing ridership. Even with those 176 special constables, Ross says that it wouldn't have been enough to match, per capita, the amount of customers riding the system.

"Because TPS is responsible for policing in Toronto including the subway system, they ultimately felt that they should have the responsibility for law enforcement in the subway as well as on the surface, and that's when the decision was made," Ross says of the reasons for the switch.

Helping to make the change a bit more seamless, the TTC trains its special constables to a police standard and has a rigorous screening process before they are hired. The constables receive all the same types of training except on firearms and a couple of statutes that they don't have the power to enforce. Besides that, Ross explains that for everything else, including criminal code, liquor license, drugs, trespassing and provincial offenses, they have the power to arrest, lay charges, release people on promise to appear in court, write tickets and transport people to a police station for processing if they need to be held.

The TTC will still manage security of its facilities, business offices, and rail and bus yards and also has a special investigative services division, which targets problems such as counterfeiting. Since it will still be responsible for these services, Ross adds that the switch will have only a slight impact on its budget.

Despite the decision to switch the supervision of its special constables, the TTC has been very successful at keeping its system safe, seeing only a 0.4 percent increase in incidents in 2008 paired with a 1.5 percent increase in ridership.

"We attribute that low number to the enforcement and to the special constables we have in the system," says Ross. "Our goal is a safe and secure system, so having a dedicated unit can only be a positive, can only be a benefit to both the TTC itself, the protection of its employees and assets and, ultimately, our customers."

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