Vandalism and reports of crime have dropped at Edmonton transit centres and LRT stations after council approved millions of dollars in security spending last year, according to a new city update.
Council approved $21 million in spending to bolster transit security in October 2018, including $6 million for around the clock private security guards at 25 Edmonton Transit Services (ETS) centres on an ongoing basis, beginning last November.
In the nine months after guards started patrolling, there were 329 mischief-related incidents at ETS transit centres and LRT stations, according to the update. That’s compared to 617 incidents over the same period in 2018.
“Having a physical presence in transit centres and the LRT stations, I think, has led to a reduction,” said Coun. Sarah Hamilton.
“But also, when I take transit and I see somebody there, I know it’s just an extra set of eyes. And that’s really important, especially as a young woman taking transit.”
The security guards are contracted to look out for situations that require police or transit peace officer support.
About $6 million dollars went toward installing retractable shields for drivers on all ETS buses — 1,038 altogether — by mid-2020. As of March, all buses had been outfitted with security cameras.
The city also hired 20 ETS staff, including inspectors and control room support, in an effort to improve response times and help operators during emergency situations or service disruptions. In total, ETS will bring on 24 new staff by next year at a cost of $2.4 million a year.
Crime reports drop, public safety perception rises
Council also earmarked $400,000 to bolster police presence this year at transit centres and along bus routes with a higher crime rate.
Edmonton Police Service calls for service at transit locations have spiked over the past five years, according to EPS data provided for the update. Police responded to 1133 calls between January and July this year, compared to 535 over the same months in 2014.
But even as police calls increase, reports of crime dropped significantly on transit property.
Between January and July this year, police statistics show there were 303 criminal occurrence reports on transit property, down from 407 over the same period in 2018.
The update found public perception of safety on the transit system increased by about four per cent since last fall, from 76 per cent to 80 per cent as of August 2019.
But Hamilton says the city also needs to consider the budget implications of contracting private security guards long-term, especially as the LRT system expands.
“I see a potential for a big cost increase if we don’t have a more comprehensive safety plan and we know how we’re going to address this holistically,” she said.
Councillors will review the update at a community and public services committee meeting on Wednesday.