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Police boost presence on Toronto transit in wake of violence, commuter reaction mixed

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Commuter reaction appeared mixed on Friday as Toronto police boosted their presence on city transit in the wake of recent violence.

Police announced a day earlier that more than 80 officers would be at Toronto Transit Commission locations to reduce victimization, prevent crimes of opportunity and enhance public safety. That came after a series of violent cases on the TTC, including stabbings, BB gun shootings and an alleged swarming.

Damira Pan, a transit user, said she has witnessed violence on transit in the past and having extra officers at subway stations made her feel safer.

"It is a good idea," she said after getting off a train at a downtown subway station on Friday morning. "I am always looking out for officers in case I am concerned about my safety."

Pan said the presence of police is especially needed during rush hours, when subways, buses and streetcars can get particularly crowded.

Seungbin Yoo, another commuter, said a visible police presence on transit could prevent violence, including potential hate crimes.

He said he has been feeling unsafe using transit since the COVID-19 pandemic began because of his Asian features and the anti-Asian sentiment that surfaced around the pandemic.

"I feel very unsafe to use especially the streetcars at nights," he said.

But not everyone welcomed the boost in police on transit.

Jaime Wilson, a transit rider, said having more police in the system doesn't help address potential underlying causes of violence, including homelessness and mental health issues.

"I don't think it is the solution," she said. "The solution is housing, mental health resources, addiction resources, warm spaces."

Wilson said despite the recent violence that's come under the spotlight, she thinks the city's transit system is generally safe.

"I don't think having police presence is necessary. They are not going to be everywhere, it costs a lot of money, and I don't think people are satisfied with that solution," she said.

Some advocates have also criticized the expansion of police presence on transit, calling it a temporary measure that won't tackle the root causes of violence in the city.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents Toronto transit employees, also said the underlying causes of violence needed to be addressed.

"ATU Local 113 calls on all levels of government to work with the TTC at tackling the root causes including housing affordability and mental health as part of the broader issue of safety on public transit," it wrote in a statement Friday.

"Without addressing the problem at its core, we won't have a transit system free from violence."

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said increased police on the TTC is one part of addressing safety issues and the city will continue investing in mental health and addictions treatment and anti-violence programs.

Police Chief Myron Demkiw has said the increased police patrols on the TTC will be filled by off-duty officers who will be paid overtime, so on-duty officers can still respond to priority calls.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the boost in police was a "Band Aid solution" and went on to call for the city to hire more police officers.

"We need full-time police officers because right now … we’re really relying on the existing police officers to come in and sign up for the callbacks," he said. "It’s not a full team there, that’s what we need."

Police have said they will be using their own data, as well as information from the TTC and communities to adjust officer deployment locations and times.

Rick Leary, the Toronto Transit Commission chief executive officer, has said the TTC is in the process of hiring more special constables and outreach workers while also working to improve its camera system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.  

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