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Transit safety team ready to board Winnipeg buses

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The first class of the city’s transit safety officers graduated Friday – with hopes of bringing a newfound sense of security on Winnipeg Transit buses.

Twenty-one safety officers and two supervisors completed a month-long training program and will start work on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The unit will patrol on buses, in marked vehicles, and on foot at Transit hubs.

“I certainly ask that as you look at your work and consider your work, that you always go about your job with a blend of compassion and resolve a kindness and diligence,” Mayor Scott Gillingham said during a graduation ceremony on Friday.

The safety program was a campaign promise by Mayor Gillingham during the 2022 municipal election to address violence and safety concerns on Winnipeg Transit’s network.

“We were able to go from concept to train individuals to deployment within one year, which is a remarkable timeframe, as if they move very, very quickly," Gillingham said.

The transit safety officers – decked out in high-viz uniforms – will carry equipment including collapsible batons and handcuffs. They will have the power to detain and arrest people.

“These new authorities will reduce demands on police resources, and will significantly improve your ability to stop dangerous people from hurting Manitobans,” Justice Minister Matt Wiebe said at the ceremony.

They will also provide first aid including administering naloxone, and connect people with community services like addiction and mental health support.

“The people you deal with will often be having one of their worst days,” provincial court Chief Judge Ryan Rolson told the graduates. “They are someone’s child, brother, sister, mother, or father. Treat them with compassion like you’d want someone to treat your own family member,”

Bob Chrismas, the community safety team lead, said training included self-defence, trauma-informed approaches, and the use of force. He said team members come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wide range of experience to the unit.

“People with strong social work, social justice… trauma-informed empathetic approach to dealing with people,” Chrismas explained. “But also the ability to do this off the fence and the enforcement aspected if and when it’s required.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 5105 told CTV News 257 ‘security incidents’ happened on and around buses in 2023. ATU president Chris Scott said that number includes assaults on transit operators.

“Hopefully, starting next week, we’ll begin to see a decline in these numbers, as the issues that many of these people face will be addressed by the community safety team,” Scott said following the ceremony.

He hopes addressing safety concerns leads to an increase in ridership.

“What helps with reducing the acts of violence directly helps the operators as well as the riding public. As soon as operators feel their workplaces safer, the riding public feels that the service is safer,” Scott said.

The transit safety team will primarily focus on routes connected to the city’s downtown. They’ll operate within transit service hours – including on weekends and statutory holidays.

The program will cost around $2.5 million annually. The provincial government provided $5 million, and the city said funding will keep the program afloat until 2027. 

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