City plans to hire, train 24 Winnipeg Transit security officers this year, mayor says
The City of Winnipeg will hire and train 24 peace officers to patrol Winnipeg Transit buses and bus stops before the end of this year, Mayor Scott Gillingham announced in his first state of the city address on Thursday.
“In the days ahead, my office will circulate a working document that outlines our plan to establish a city peace officer unit that will start its work on our transit system,” Gillingham told a crowd of about 1,000 people at the RBC Convention Centre.
“Critics say we can’t be on every bus, and they’re right,” Gillingham said.
“But we checked the data, and more than 40 per cent of the assaults and serious incidents that take place, take place on the same five routes. So we know where to concentrate our patrols to be effective.”
Those routes are the 11, 15, 16, 18 and 47, according to data from the city from 2019 to October 2022.
A transit security team was one of Gillingham’s election campaign commitments, in response to concerns from transit drivers and passengers about assaults and threats. The 2023 budget included $5 million for the team.
The team members will work in co-ordination with police and social services agencies, Gillingham said Thursday.
“The goal, of course, is to create an environment on our transit system and environment for our transit drivers, and an environment around our bus stops, that is safe and secure and gives people the confidence to ride our transit system,” he said.
In addition to the 24 peace officers, the city will also hire a team leader and two support workers, Gillingham told reporters following his speech.
The Amalgamated Transit Union released a statement praising the announcement of 24 members for the security team.
“However, in addition to having the proper powers to perform the duties required, these individuals would also need specialized training to meet the demands of working such a unique space like a bus,” ATU Local 1505 president Chris Scott said in the statement.
“We need to make sure we get the right people for the job.”
Downtown safety, economy
Those peace officers could eventually be used to patrol other areas where violence occurs, such as the Millennium Library.
The downtown facility closed following a fatal stabbing in December. It reopened weeks later with metal detectors and increased security in place, including two police officers.
“We’re going to begin developing a comprehensive community safety plan to make police and fire and bylaw enforcement and civilian crime prevention organizations more effective,” Gillingham said.
“We need to bring all of them together. We need to develop a single co-ordinated plan to prevent crime, not just to respond to it.”
Gillingham hopes the security team could reduce the need for those police officers at the library, which is undergoing a safety audit by a private contractor, with preliminary recommendations expected in the next few weeks.
“I’ve said before, over the long term, I don’t want to see police in our library,” he said.
Gillingham’s speech on Thursday also touched on issues of homelessness and economic recovery in Winnipeg’s downtown.
He said staff are putting the final touches on a plan to help homeless people during extreme weather.
“We won’t end homelessness with 20 kayaks on the river, steering and rowing in their separate ways,” Gillingham said in the speech.
“We need the power of one team rowing the dragon boat up the stream, against the current, in the same direction, together relentlessly.”
Gillingham promised a new plan to improve the city’s downtown, compiling recommendations from more than 80 reports published over the last two decades, called Centre Plan 2050.
That received praise from the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the state of the city address.
“Heading into the election when we polled our members, 77 per cent said the downtown was the number one issue,” said Loren Remillard.
“There is a widespread recognition and the mayor articulated this — the downtown is a reflection of our community as a whole.”