Calgary Canada July 4 2017 Boarding at the Victoria Park-Stampede LRT station, it didn’t take long to find what they were looking for.
Taking one end of the half-full rail car, transit enforcement officers Brian Meanley and Mathieu Young begin asking the late-evening passengers to present their transit tickets — a daily routine in the seemingly never-ending effort to quell fare evasion.
Finished with a clutch of college-aged passengers near the door, Meanley approaches a lone male who seems barely aware of the officer’s presence.
Quietly mumbling something about misplaced tickets, the man is ushered off the train at the next stop.
He’s promptly placed in handcuffs after routine records checks reveal outstanding arrest warrants, earning a trip to a downtown holding cell in the Calgary Police Service arrest processing unit.
By far the most visible aspect of a city transit officer’s job, fare enforcement is only a small part of what they do.
“A lot of people just think we go out there and write tickets, a lot of people think we’re just security guards,” Young said. “We do a lot more than that.”
Meanley and Young are among the nearly 100 peace officers in Calgary Transit’s public safety and enforcement unit — keeping the network safe, secure and running efficiently.
“Transit peace officers have the authority to deal with about 95 per cent of what happens on transit,” said public safety co-ordinator Brian Whitelaw.
“That takes pressure off CPS to have to respond constantly to the property.”
Transit officers occupy a niche in Alberta’s peace officer framework — capable of laying criminal charges in addition to the customary transit bylaws.
On the front-lines of the city’s transit system, they respond to welfare checks, suspicious people, public intoxication calls and collisions involving transit vehicles — just to name a few.
Their mandate goes beyond just protecting transit. Last Wednesday, it was transit officers who tracked down and arrested the man believed responsible for leaving a suspicious, smoking package at a Marlborough car dealership earlier in the evening.
Maintaining visibility on the service, Whitelaw said, is a priority from the top down.
With officers deployed on both vehicles and bicycles, riding the rails is the best way to not only maintain that visibility, but also react swiftly in a crisis.
Just halfway through 2017, it’s already been a rough year for Calgary Transit.
While only four homicides have been recorded on the transit system in its 108-year history, two have occurred in the past three months.
Eric Lavallee, 52, was knifed to death at Sunalta LRT station on April 28, while a deadly stabbing at City Hall station claimed the life of 46-year-old Nicholas Nwonye on June 2.
Whitelaw stresses the importance of risk assessment with his officers — combined with intelligence gathering and keeping ahead of prolific, well-known troublemakers.
“Where sometimes that doesn’t work is where you’ve got somebody we haven’t seen before,” he said. “That’s where prediction just simply doesn’t work.”
That, he says, was the case with this June’s slaying — a crime allegedly committed by an individual not on anybody’s radar screen.
Despite these high-profile attacks, Whitelaw maintains confidence in the system’s safety — a sentiment shared by his officers.
Absolutely, transit is safe,” Meanley said. “I take transit every day to work. I live in the south, and I have no problems coming to and from work on the train at night, in the morning, early mornings, evenings.”
He has, however, seen an increase in violence over his nearly eight years on the job.
Despite the challenges, Young and Meanley take pride in the job their fellow officers do.
“We have our bread-and-butter, which is fare enforcement, but I think what’s exciting is that you never know what call you’re going to be sent out to,” Young said.
For Meanley, satisfaction comes with increasing the profile of transit officers — whom he says far too many passengers aren’t aware of.
“To me, that’s a shame — they should see us,” Meanley said. “They should know we’re out there. They should know they can come to us.”