More than tickets and trains: On the beat with Transit Police

Transit Police

A row of dark blue uniforms are lined up beside the door as one officer pounds loudly with his fist, shouting “Police, search warrant!”  As the door opens the officers pour in, handcuffing the occupants of the room.

The arrested are led outside into the dark, past their neighbours’ stares, into a waiting black and white cruiser that reads: Transit Police.

Our varied duties take us to unexpected locations – following up with victims, witnesses, suspects and gathering evidence may have even led us to your own workplace or neighbourhood. While you might be used to seeing us on foot, on trains and in stations, criminal investigations require interviews, warrant arrests, searches and processing of evidence, all away from the transit lines.

There are a few mistruths out there – some people think we only check tickets and aren’t real police – it couldn’t be further from the truth.

My job continually surprises me and is an ongoing learning experience. I enjoy doing interesting work that is different from most jobs. Transit Police is different from most forces. We’re on the beat, in close contact with hundreds of people each shift and we capitalize on our social interactions. A Justice Institute of BC (JIBC) Police Academy classmate of mine once rode the train with me and commented, “I don’t know how you guys do it. You have to stand so close to people.” It was a stark comparison to his policing style of usually responding to a call from a distance, and arriving in a separate vehicle.


Transit Police go through training with all the municipal police departments at the JIBC Police Academy in New Westminster and cover the same curriculum to be able to work as police in British Columbia. Our classmates include members from Delta, Vancouver and New West Police Departments, plus others. Our training includes use of force, impaired driving law, search warrant requests and emergency vehicle operation, and frequently our recruits graduate at the top of the class. This summer one of our officers was voted his class valedictorian.

When I’m not busy with calls or investigations (or paperwork – there’s a lot of paperwork in policing), I’m busy on patrol and checking passengers. Those that have little respect for criminal laws, also tend to have little respect for paying fares. Fare checks are shockingly effective at screening for more serious criminal activity. My concern is not primarily about the $2.75 fare a person might have evaded, but about the safety of you and fellow transit passengers on platforms, in buses and trains and the surrounding community.

Transit Police patrols have many functions:

  • Passengers feel safer when they see police on the system.
  • Criminals avoid the system knowing that police are there.
  • We enforce minor offences, which can have a greater effect on the reduction of crime and disorder.
  • We remove criminals from the system by discovering arrest warrants, court conditions, probation and parole conditions.
  • We enforce other laws – including, but not limited to, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Liquor Act, Motor Vehicle Act, Safe Streets Act, Trespass Act, and Immigration Act.

On a daily basis, I cross paths with people using drugs, drinking in public, using the transit system as a toilet and other things you don’t want to hear about. Imagine the unruliness if people weren’t worried about being spotted by Transit Police.

  • In 2011 we removed 722 people with outstanding arrest warrants from the system, plus another 834 arrests for court order breaches.
  • In 2012 we provided law enforcement on and around the transit system to 126 special events with 5,000 to 50,000 in attendance.
  • Canada Border Services Agency report the average police agency referred 24 cases to them while we referred 117 in the same period.
  • In the last two years we prevented the circulation of $5 million in counterfeit fares. In one case, involving international scope, two people were deported as a part of our investigation.
  • Our file clearance (case closed) rate was higher than the B.C. average in 2012.
  • Crime has dropped system-wide since we started in 2005. We get convictions in court, prevent crime and provide a safe feeling for passengers for about eight cents of your ticket cost.

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Transit Police save lives. I have dealt with suicidal persons on several occasions. While you might expect my contact with people planning to hurt themselves to be in train stations, I have also talked people off of bridge ledges. There are times when we have to apprehend people who were hurting themselves or others. For example, on one of my recent shifts, there was a young man stabbing himself while riding the train. Earlier this year, two girls stabbed a passenger in Surrey, then rode the train to New Westminster and found more victims. They were arrested by Transit Police shortly after fleeing from their third attack, in Vancouver. Just last week I noticed a man who looked troubled, walking towards a bridge. Stopping to speak with him I learned he had been reported missing and suicidal by his family and we got him safely back to them.

Transit Police exist because there is potential for crime and disorder on the transit system, a place where everyone needs to be safe. People can imagine having their house burgled, computer hacked or being t-boned in an intersection, but for some reason, there is a prevalent public voice that says we don’t need full-fledged transit police in Metro Vancouver, despite most major cities having police on their mass transit systems. No one is surprised to see police on the New York Subway or London Underground. There are also dedicated Transit Police departments in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Maryland, New Jersey, Boston, Australia, the United Kingdom, plus many more. The transit officers in Australia recently changed to transit police, for similar reasons as we did eight years ago; they found that having Transit Police officers with law enforcement powers is necessary to prevent and investigate crime on their system.

I love my job and the people I work with. I have an opportunity to help people every shift, whether it is as simple as providing directions or as meaningful as changing a life. The popularity of complaining about us, and the unclear the role we have, compared to other jurisdictions, adds to the job challenges. Despite that, I know that Transit Police do make a difference and I am part of the solution.


Written by Constable Graham Walker, a Patrol and Community Relations Officer with the Transit Police.

Images: Geoff Petrie/submitted

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Vancity Buzz Staff Your inside source for Vancouver happenings. Established 2008.

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  • Guest

    Thanks for this, interesting to know what Transit Police do. I’m curious Constable Graham Walker, if you know how much transit police will decline once the fare gates are up and running. Do you feel that if the Transit Police are cut, that the skytrain stations will be less safe? As well, if you are not checking fares, then you will no longer catch those with outstanding warrants / court order breaches.


  • Guest

    I just wish you guys would get on the buses. There’s more ‘transit’ for you to police than just the train.

  • guest

    Hi, I think that this article is ridiculous because showing us that the Skycops do investigations, etc outside of the skytrain and transit system doesn’t actually prove much. I would like to know or physically witness them doing a good job policing against creeps and weirdos. I’ve heard a lot about women being felt up and objectified on the transit system here and it scares me a lot. When I see a Skycop, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel as if I am taken care of and watched over and protected. I feel as if they are staring at me, looking me over and questioning whether or not I am city scum that hasn’t paid my fare, or even checking me out. I have had some very sorry experiences with the transit here. This city is overrun with scum and the skycops are just another notch on the scum rung that is Vancouver. Congratulations for making us pay for something that should be a taxable benefit to city-dwellers. I would rather use my goddamn feet to get me everywhere. At least they can kick a guy in the balls and run fast. That’s fucking safety.

  • Guesttttttttttttttt

    “We enforce minor offences, which can have a greater effect on the reduction of crime and disorder.”

    This is total conjecture based off the whole “broken windows theory” which has been largely rejected by social scientists

  • Roger

    A totally unnecessary police force!! Get rid of these guys, reduce transit fares, and come to an agreement between municipal police forces in how to deal with crimes on transit or create a regional police force. So many wasted tax dollars in this city, here is yet another example.

  • JIBC Student

    I believe that Transit Police is necessary. The reason why people think it’s not important is because they don’t see crime on the Transit system. But the lack of crime is exactly a great picture that Transit Police is doing their job!

  • guest

    One of the reasons he is writing this article is because his and his colleagues’ jobs are on the line.

  • Cst. Graham Walker

    Agreed. With a police force the same size as Delta PD, we try and do as much as we can. Foot patrols on the light rail are the first priority, but we investigate most assaults against bus drivers or offences against transit property away from the train. We will see if the fare-gates free us up to do even more off the lines.

  • Cst. Graham Walker

    I hope we do not decline in numbers at all. TransLink has said that they will wait until the effect of the fare gates is evaluated before they decide on our staffing. We also have some academics doing a study on our deployment of police officers right now. I also believe the gates will have little effect on fare evasion, and someone will still have to check passes. We will see!

  • Cst. Graham Walker

    Last night I stopped a man at Main Street station for consuming liquor on the platform. He gave me a false name when asked. Turned out he was bound by bail conditions not to possess or consume liquor. When he was searched we found mobile phones and knives, also against his bail conditions. Two of the mobile phones were reported stolen earlier in the day, along with a cheque in somone else’s name, from three different theft-from-auto incidents. He was also in possession of a fake transit pass. He is looking at charges of possession of stolen property and utter forged document. The phone owners were very pleased to get their phones back.
    You’re right – broken-windows is a ‘theory’ – but here’s a good example of small offences leading us to bigger ones.

  • gglave

    It’s an unpopular opinion, but I believe there should be one region-wide police force, from Maple Ridge to Lion’s Bay; from Tsawwassen to Deep Cove. That force should / could also cover transit. It’s crazy to have all these multiple forces – Very expensive way to go IMO.

  • AssHat900

    RoboSkyCop disapproves creeps.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    This was a well written article. I agree wholeheartedly with everything in it. People who still don’t think we need Transit Police probably haven’t been randomly assaulted on a train or harassed in some way, but if you take away Transit Police I’m convinced you’d see the crime rate go way up. I think we need more Transit Police. When I see them, I know I feel safe as someone who has seen way to much of “things you don’t want to hear about” while taking Transit. 8 cents per ticket to pay their salaries? I’d gladly pay more for their service. Be safe out there guys/gals, keep up the good work, and thank you for your tireless efforts.

  • Cadistra

    Despite the self-entitled Vancouvrite tendency to piss and moan about “wah wah wasted tax dollars!” I’m very grateful for the transit police. Much as I hate to say it, as a young woman who travels alone often I have to be that much more careful about what’s going on around me. All kinds of people with many different intentions take transit, and not all of these are good. I’ve personally run into a few of the less-than-savoury ones, and the fact that the transit police were ready and willing to jump in and help out was very welcome.

    Also, to anyone bitching about how they apparently “don’t do anything” – next time you see a drunken fight, or a violent or abusive passenger, why don’t you yourself take the liberty of ejecting them from the train car? After all, you make it seem like these officers don’t do anything, so it obviously must be easy, right?

    There are those out there who appreciate your service and dedication! Thank you!

  • Joe

    Roger, you’re an idiot. You get rid of them, transit fares will go up as fair evaders take advantage of the system. Did you even read the article? Since transit covers several cities, you have to deal with different jurisdictions, which wastes times and effectiveness.

  • Steve_citybuzz

    A taxable benefit is exactly something that would cost you money anyways to receive the services of the transit system and the transit police. You’re speaking of hearing numerous women being felt up on the transit system and are using that information to say that Transit Police are useless? No police force can provide ultimate protection for everyone at every moment, they can not be everywhere at once, but I can assure you that if they saw such criminal activity they would put an end to it immediately. I’m sorry to hear of your bad experiences with the transit police and only wish you have seen the positive responses that I have seen myself.

    Your comment ” I would rather use my goddamn feet to get me everywhere”. No one is forcing you to take the train, please use those feet and take advantage of the opportunity to be more active.

  • Jay

    I agree with the Guest i wish i see more officers on buses cuz bus drivers don’t and cant say anything back poor guys get abused like crazy. All the free loaders use buses esp on Hastings st. I take bus number #20 Victoria, #8 Fraser and # 14 and i see the stupidest shit everyday.

  • Guest

    Great article and read – working with the RCMP in the GVRD I can affirm that having these dedicated people on hand not only help us with our work load but assure a quick response to all transit related incidents is met. Well done!

  • Louis Cyphre

    What a bunch of self-serving bull. Without cops around people will just piss everywhere! Yeah baby, earning his 100K/year salary.

  • Louis Cyphre

    Evasion does not impact fares at all. The cost of policing is much higher than the revenue lost. But it should be free anyway. This police force is utterly useless and should be replaced with a small RCMP detachment and *never* lie in wait to pounce on poor students.

  • Louis Cyphre

    Seriously, when was the last time *you* were in the middle of a fight on SkyTrain?

  • Louis Cyphre

    They have security on buses now for late night drunks and it is shameful. They are bullies and goons and likely to try and seize your pass to “look at it” (hah hah try again, charlie) or be verbally abusive.

  • William

    Interesting comment Louis. Seize “your” pass, or a pass that “you” obtained illegally (stolen; sold in a manner that goes against rules and regulations of the Transit Tariff) or without consent and is being utilized to obtain transit by fraud? I’m sure that considering your statement about having your pass seized that there is more to the story than Security “goons” going around seizing passes and being verbally abusive. If you were victimized, why not report the incident and provide your information to launch an investigation? I’ve been on buses on late nights and I can say without hesitation, that I’ve seen my share of drunken belligerents have their rambunctious behavior curbed just with the presence of Transit Security on the night buses. I feel for the operators, Transit Security and Transit Police. It’s not an easy job.

  • William

    Agreed Joe! Armchair quarterbacks have all the answers and solutions.

  • Louis Cyphre

    So the new highly untrained security guys on the late night party express are supposed to help with unruly drunks. That’s great, I don’t much care for unruly drunks, they’re a mess of trouble and best avoided. Me, I don’t drink and if I get shoved I document and report. OK guys, tell me if I am wrong but I am gonna estimate on the fly here that about 90% of altercations between driver and passenger involve money.

  • Louis Cyphre

    Money that people sometimes do not have or refuse to pay out of mental illness.

  • Louis Cyphre

    A pass that I obtained illegally? LOL seriously man? Is this a huge criminal underworld operation here in Van City? Wrat do black market transit passes go for? I click mine on the compass thing and half the time nothing happens and only uptight drivers care. If someone attempted to seize it I would treat it as if it were my credit card or BCID.

  • 12thMan above 49th Parralell

    Highly untrained? They are fully licensed and are required to pass security/criminal background clearance through the Attorney Generals office to be employed. They have a very good track record and work closely with all jurisdictional Police Departments throughout the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Have you seen what these guys put up with on a daily basis? I’ve seen Transit Security work on the buses and if you ask me, they have it down like clockwork. They provide unparalleled safety to bus drivers, the public on the transit system and while protecting property. They also have the power to arrest, if they find any person committing a criminal act on or in relation to transit, under the Criminal Code of Canada. There isn’t much advertising and PR done for Transit Security, which is very, very sad, as the public would be surprised as to what they are involved in on a day to day basis. They do their job while being unarmed and rely on verbal communication and if need be, tactical use of force training that is second to none. Lighten up Louis, life is too precious to be consumed by cynicism.

  • William

    Read the terms and conditions of your subsidized yearly pass Louis. You should educate yourself. Your pass may be examined at any point in time while entering or in a a fare paid zone. Failure to do so, and your pass may be seized by any Transit Employee (enforced by the Transit Tariff…yes….Transit Tariff go look it up lol) the pass is property of Translink, which you are using after understanding and agreeing to the terms and conditions set out on the pass. Lightbulb go off yet?