Toronto to deploy 50 security guards on TTC property amid rash of violent incidents
The City of Toronto will temporarily deploy 50 security guards to Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) property and hire 20 community safety ambassadors in an effort to prioritize safety on the system.
In a release issued Monday, the city said the decision was part of “the medium- and longer-term strategy” to prioritize “many different and complex issues surrounding safety on the transit system.”
Both services will go into effect immediately, the release states.
The 50 security guards temporarily deployed have “daily experience” dealing with unhoused people in crisis and are trained in mental health first aid, overdose prevention and response, and nonviolent crisis intervention, the city said.
When asked which company had been contracted to provide security services or what the guards’ enforcement directives will be, the city said they would have "more [details] on operationalizing in the coming days."
The TTC says the 50 new guards will be in addition to the commitment made in its proposed 2023 operating budget to hire 25 new special constables and fill 25 existing special constable positions.
"We are hiring 50 special constables this year," spokesperson for the TTC, Stuart Green, told CTV News Toronto Monday. "They take many months to train whereas this support can be brought in much sooner."
The 20 community safety ambassadors will work directly with people experiencing homelessness and provide outreach services, the city said. Their services were not specified as temporary within the release.
“Community Safety Ambassadors and Streets to Homes workers are a key part of getting people inside and ensuring all people have access to safe, indoor space with critical supports like meals, healthcare, showers, laundry and housing information and referrals,” Alex Burke, manager of media relations for the city, told CTV News Toronto Monday evening.
“The additional security guards and Community Safety Ambassadors announced today will allow for a human-services-first approach to interacting with vulnerable people on the transit system.”
Cost estimates for the combined services were not provided Monday.
In addition to these new roles, the city said the TTC is currently in the process of ensuring all of its chief and mobile supervisors are trained in de-escalation techniques to support station staff.
CUPE 5089, the union representing the TTC’s special constables and fare inspectors, told CTV News Toronto in a written statement Monday it was “very disappointed, but not shocked” to see the city augment its operations.
Executive director Leslie Kampf said that for several years now the commission has been instructing the union’s members to "move away from enforcement and policing."
“The TTC has failed in its obligation to its staff and customers to provide a safe transit system, so we understand why the mayor feels the need to address this deficit with additional resources,” Kampf said. “ Our position is, and continues to be, to allow our highly trained members to do their jobs.”
But expanding policing on the public system hasn’t been unanimously supported. In early January, TTCRiders issued a statement saying a “thoughtful” approach to safety was needed.
“Black and Indigenous people have been grossly overrepresented in TTC enforcement incidents,” the statement reads. “TTCriders is calling for more supportive staff roles to contribute to a welcoming environment, who are able to de-escalate crisis situations and provide wayfinding and accessibility services.”
The organization is urging TTC users to attend its Feb. 9 townhall to discuss safety on the system.
“All are invited to join this community conversation to share what a safe, dignified, and accessible public transit system means to you,” TTCriders director Shelagh Pizey-Allen said.
Kampf says CUPE 5089 echoes the need for more social services, but that those services should include law enforcement and the courts.
“All public services are needed to work together,” he said, adding that the union’s members specifically see the need for more mental health and addictions treatment in the city, along with increased capacity in shelters, warming centres, and in-patient psychiatric facilities.
Meanwhile, Kampf said the “understaffing and underutilization of [CUPE 5089’s] members does not give the TTC the right to contract out our work.” When the security guards are deployed, the union said it will file a grievance with the TTC.
The implementation of these additional safety measures follows a commitment made by the Toronto Police Service last week to deploy 80 officers on TTC property in an effort to reduce victimization and enhance public safety.
The TTC has been host to a rash of violent incidents in recent weeks.
Since Jan. 20, two riders have been stabbed on TTC vehicles, a man was arrested for allegedly attempting to push another individual onto subway tracks, and a woman fell down a set of stairs after someone tried to rob her of her purse.
TTC employees have also been the targets of violence. In the same timeframe, an employee was assaulted by a group of youth in a “swarming style attack,” another employee was shot with a BB gun pellet, and a group of workers were chased through Dundas station by a suspect with a syringe.
Last week, the president of the union representing some 12,000 transit workers in Toronto said violent incidents had reached “crisis levels,” calling for the establishment of a national transit safety task force.
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