HomeNews1Toronto city hall, police and transit leaders vow to make TTC safer

Toronto city hall, police and transit leaders vow to make TTC safer

Toronto city hall, police and transit leaders vow to make TTC safer

Toronto’s transit system has seen a series of violent attacks in recent days, with political, police and transit leaders vowing to make the system safer.

The Toronto Police Service is boosting its presence on the TTC as the city tries to come to grips with an unprecedented series of violent incidents on its public transit system.

The aim of the plan announced Thursday by Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw is to have roughly 80 police officers in place throughout the city’s transit system at any given time, “effective immediately.”

“We will do this primarily through a significant number of callback shifts, which are filled by off-duty officers in an overtime capacity,” said Demkiw at a news conference on transit safety, flanked by TTC CEO Rick Leary and Mayor John Tory.

Demkiw gave no details on how much the move might cost, or where and when the officers would be deployed.

“We’re doing this so that on-duty, front-line officers remain available to respond to priority calls.”

The new measures are aimed at preventing violence on the system and making riders feel safer — a crucial piece of the puzzle for a system that’s struggled to recoup riders since the pandemic, forcing the system to hike fares and cut service this year.

City officials said Wednesday there was “no magic answer” to the recent spate of random violent attacks on transit, while regular TTC riders changed their travel plans in light of recent headlines, which have included two stabbings this week alone.

On Wednesday afternoon, a 16-year-old boy suffered serious injuries after he was stabbed on a TTC bus. Earlier that day, a woman was charged with attempted murder after another woman was stabbed repeatedly on the Spadina streetcar the day before.

In December, a woman was killed and another injured after a daytime stabbing at High Park subway station.

Thursday’s news conference came just hours after yet another violent incident occurred on the TTC — the sixth in just as many days. This time, four teenagers were arrested for allegedly shooting a passenger with a BB gun at York University subway station. The three boys and a girl, all age 15 or 16, each face one weapons dangerous and assault with a weapon charge.

“We don’t know exactly what is behind these incidents, but we know that the root causes are complex, and they’re going to require a co-ordinated approach and response,” said Leary, adding the safety of customers and employees continues to be a top priority.

Leary and Tory both reiterated the city’s plan, outlined in the proposed 2023 budget, to fill 25 vacant special constable positions and hire for 25 new ones, as well as add 10 more Streets to Homes outreach workers, who help homeless people find housing, to the 10 already deployed.

Both measures must be approved by city council on Feb. 14. If the budget passes, the new constables will undergo several months of training.

Leary also said Thursday the TTC is redeploying its own staff — including supervisors and managers from other areas — to be more visible on transit system.

According to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green on Thursday there were about 80-90 people from various departments in high visibility vests throughout the system.

CUPE 5089, the union representing the TTC’s special constables, cheered Thursday’s announcement. “We fundamentally believe that law enforcement done right, in conjunction with social services and mental health care, is the best way forward,” said Leslie Kampf, executive director, adding that special constables deter would-be offenders, as well as compel people to seek care when necessary.

While the policing move follows a particularly troubling week on TTC, violence on the transit system has been on the rise since COVID-19 first hit, with TTC data for the first half of 2022 putting last year on track to be the system’s most violent since 2017, even with only about two-thirds of the riders.

Public health experts blame the surge in crime on social issues in the city, such as homelessness and the lack of support for people struggling with mental illness, that have persisted in Toronto for decades but were exacerbated during the pandemic.

Tory touted the city’s planned increased investment in mental health supports, which includes the Toronto Community Crisis service pilot launched last year, which provides nonpolice responses to persons in a mental health distress.

On Wednesday, Tory called for a national summit on mental health, arguing that the crisis is to blame for the uptick in random violent incidents in Toronto.

It’s not clear what role, if any, mental illness has played in recent attacks. But some transit advocates and public health experts were critical of the city for not doing anything to directly help people experiencing crises on transit.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of transit advocacy group TTCRiders, said adding more police to the system is “not the right approach to support people who are in crisis.”

“The mayor admitted himself that police do not address the root causes of violence. We know that police make some people feel less safe, especially Black, Indigenous and racialized people in Toronto,” she added.

Other jurisdictions have made similar moves with little payoff. New York City added thousands of additional police patrols last year to its subway system to respond to an uptick in violence. Crime rose by 30 per cent in 2022.

Pizey-Allen said the city should consider implementing on the TTC something similar to the province’s 211 helpline, which connects people with support and community services they need.

Dr. Andrew Babcock Boozary, a physician and executive director of University Health Network’s Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine, said the new measures “duck away” from the root causes driving the violence, including our “two-tiered” mental health system and the housing affordability crisis.

“A police first response instead of a housing first response will only widen the disconnect and is incredibly costly, (financially and on) the human dignity front,” he said, noting the nature of recent violent attacks, sporadic and random, where the perpetrator has seemingly little to gain, show an individual in distress.

“Over time, it will not ensure that there’s the safety that all of us want for people who are riding on public transportation (including those that have) nowhere else to go, given the homelessness crisis.”

For commuters, here are some tips on how to stay safe:

  • If you need help in a TTC station, go to a Designated Waiting Area (DWA) and use the intercom on the platform or at any elevator to contact station staff. They will contact emergency responders for help.
  • As part of the Request Stop Program, TTC customers riding alone by bus between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and who are feeling vulnerable can request to be dropped off between regular TTC stops. The request should be made at least one TTC stop ahead of the desired location and the driver must be able to stop safely to meet the request.
  • Avoid distractions on your cellphone or other electronic devices.
  • Keep your head up and be alert of your surroundings.
  • Keep the volume down on your music so you can hear noise around you.
  • Be aware of places you can get help along your route, such as open stores and restaurants.
  • If someone falls on the tracks or is caught between the door of a moving subway car and the platform, you should cut power to the track using the nearest emergency power cut cabinet, located at each end of the platform.
  • In an emergency, press the yellow emergency alarm strip located above the windows, along the wheelchair positions and near the doors of the subway car. Activating the alarm will result in a delay and misuse of the alarm comes with a $500 fine.

This the timeline of the violent attacks happened these days:

  • Jan. 3, 2023 – A fight during the evening rush at Bloor-Yonge station led to someone being pushed onto the tracks. Police say two men got into an argument on the platform which escalated into a physical fight.

TTC special constables who were on scene arrested the suspect. He was charged with assault.

  • Jan. 18, 2023 – A man struck someone in the head at Bloor-Yonge station and knocked their religious head covering to the ground. Police say they’re treating the assault as a suspected hate-motivated offence.
  • Jan. 20, 2023 – Police say a suspect tried to push a person onto the subway tracks in the afternoon at Bloor-Yonge station. No injuries were reported.

A short time later, a man in his 50s was arrested at Rosedale station. There is no word on what led to the incident.

  • Jan. 21, 2023 – A TTC driver was shot with a BB gun as they were waiting to take over a bus in Scarborough. The driver was hit in the head and abdomen but did not suffer any serious injuries.

Police say the suspects drove off in a vehicle and it is believed the victim was targeted due to their uniform.

  • Jan. 21, 2023 – A teenage girl was sexually assaulted on a bus leaving Kipling station. Police arrested a 39-year-old man and charged him with sexual assault.
  • Jan. 23, 2023 – Two uniformed TTC employees were swarmed and attacked aboard a bus in Scarborough. Police confirmed the two employees suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Investigators initially said they were looking for as many as 15 teenage boys. Police have arrested and charged four 13-year-old boys with assault.

  • Jan. 23, 2023 – A man grabbed a woman’s purse at Broadview station during a violent robbery. The suspect fled with the item.

The violent incident was captured on surveillance video. Police are still looking for a suspect.

  • Jan. 24, 2023 – A woman was stabbed in the head and face on a Spadina streetcar, just south of Bloor Street. She was taken to hospital with life-altering injuries.

A 43-year-old woman is facing five charges including attempted murder. It is not clear if the suspect and victim knew each other.

  • Jan. 25, 2023 – A pair of TTC workers were chased by a person with a syringe near Dundas station in downtown Toronto.

Police say the employees were able to get away after they were chased. A suspect was arrested at the scene.

  • Jan. 25, 2023 – A 16-year-old boy was stabbed on a TTC bus near Old Mill subway station. The victim was taken to a trauma centre with serious, but non-life threatening injuries.

Police are still searching for a suspect and whether they knew the victim or not.

Part of the article was reported by the Star.