Gord Cebryk brought a message of calm, concern and conviction to a news conference in the wake of the stabbing of an Edmonton Transit Service operator.
“Transit is safe,” said Cebryk, the City of Edmonton’s Deputy City Manager of City Operations. “We know this because it is our job to keep transit safe. And it is our commitment to make transit safer.”
“We also know that one act of violence is one too many.”
Cebryk, along with Edmonton Police Service Insp. Derek McIntyre, met reporters Friday morning at City Hall, a day after police announced charges in the case.
There have been approximately 65 million trips on ETS (bus and LRT) so far this year, Cebryk said. Over the same period, there have been 2,072 calls from transit to police for assistance, resulting in 230 criminal investigations.
“When you do the math, a very small, small percentage of those transit trips result in an incident,” said Cebryk. “However, again, one incident is one too many.”
Cebryk said transit safety is part of a bigger societal picture, but stressed that the focus of the news conference was on how to maintain and improve safety on buses and trains.
Cebryk told reporters three efforts unfolded simultaneously after the incident: The City moved to protect the operator and support his colleagues; as well, the City provided support to police, leading to a charge; and, the City gathered with its partners to compile “our best information on the incident and analyze it to determine what we can do to decrease the chances of this type of thing ever happening again.”
Transit safety is the result of specific tools (including surveillance cameras, emergency help phones and bus shields), awareness, and visible security presence, Cebryk said.
“We don’t want one or the other,” he told reporters. “We want all of them.”
Right now, transit stations do not have uniformed security presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cebryk said the recent incident triggered immediate meetings with ETS peace officers and the Edmonton Police Service to find ways for “enhanced coverage, improved coverage and a wider span of coverage,” including Budget proposals for additional transit peace officers.
“We use the data that we have to look at where the problems are occurring, when they’re occurring and how we can focus on those areas,” Cebryk said.
Reporters asked Cebryk what he meant by training for operators.
“We want them not to engage,” he said. “We want them to understand the options in terms of recognizing when a situation could become potentially [more serious] and recognize that in advance, as opposed to having to respond.”
Surveillance cameras are already on many buses and will be installed on the entire fleet. Shields are being researched and ordered, and the plan, Cebryk said, is for new buses to come with shields, and for a “very aggressive” timeline in retrofitting a number of existing buses with the protective measure.
Police Insp. Derek McIntyre told reporters that since 2015, when the police LRT beat team was formed, there has been a “reduction in the number of calls that they have had to specifically engage in.”
“We work in partnership with the TPOs [transit peace officers],” McIntyre said. We work in teams on the trains and on the platforms. Our ultimate concern is in relation to keeping the transit system safe. It is safe. It can get safer. We can always provide better policing services, and we do commit to doing that.”
McIntyre said the transit operator case, and a recent incident in which an LRT passenger was stabbed during an alleged crime spree, were “significant,” stressing that statistics don’t change that fact.
“We’re committed to working with the City on an ongoing basis regardless of what the statistical data on how many calls for service are coming in.”
McIntyre said it’s untenable that police or peace officers could be assigned to every bus or train.
“We work very smartly,” McIntyre said. “We use our analytics and we use our data to deploy smartly, and to deploy in a way that Edmontonians would believe that the money they’re investing in policing and in transit security is being spent wisely.”
The City has 66 transit peace officers.
After the news conference, Cebryk, along with Rob Smyth, Deputy City Manager, Citizen Services and City Manager Linda Cochrane visited the injured transit operator, and shared a message of support on behalf of all City of Edmonton employees.