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leader – Winnipeg Free Press

leader – Winnipeg Free Press

The 21 members of Winnipeg Transit’s safety team have responded to more than 1,000 incidents since February. That shows they’ve made a difference, but their leader says more people need to be on the streets.

“I think they’re having a great impact and we’re getting great, warm feedback from the community,” said Bob Chrismas.

“I don’t think we could do better with the small number we have, and I hope the city considers doubling our capacity in the near future,” he said.

Data shows that 782 of the 1,037 incidents reported between February 20 and June 30 involved welfare checks, where officers assisted people who were in distress or distress and may have been intoxicated.

In 114 cases, officers were involved in a dispute or disturbance. There were 72 reports of officers taking part in community engagement activities; officers were sent out 46 times to search for people reported missing; and there were 23 assaults or situations where people made threats.

The number of incidents is no surprise at Christmas.

“They are often sent by our dispatchers to all kinds of disturbances and problems, but as soon as they walk out the door, they are involved, because there is so much going on in the city center, on the buses,” he said on Tuesday.

The plan was to split the team in two and send them out at different times, but that didn’t work out. It quickly became clear that the team was being stretched too thin, he said.

Today the team works as one unit, working five eight-hour shifts each week.

Officers will be deployed for some weeks on day shifts and some weeks on evenings, with working hours and weekend shifts staggered to “try to overcome the problem times we’ve seen in public transport incident data,” Chrismas said.

The staff consists of 19 officers and two supervisors, two fewer than when the program began.

The job comes with a six-month “suitability period.” Both had come to the program through other municipal jobs and then returned to their original roles.

There are five vacancies open in the team, as a few more people are expected to leave the program to join the police force.

Chrismas hopes that in the future, officers will be able to work day and night shifts every day.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said the data will be used to determine a possible expansion.

“From all the reports I’ve heard, the Neighborhood Safety Officer program is going very well and making a difference on our buses and around our stops,” he said Tuesday.

Bus passengers who passed through the city centre on Tuesday morning were divided when asked about the value of the programme.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

The public transport safety team consists of 19 officers and two supervisors.

A passenger waiting for the bus at the intersection of Vaughan Street and Graham Avenue said she saw officers intervene when a passenger fell asleep due to a drug overdose.

“When they’re on the bus, I feel a lot safer,” she said. “I see them doing pretty good work while they’re there.”

Terry Wasik takes the bus everywhere. He said the officers “just show up.”

“The characters who take the bus, they don’t pay for the bus ride in the first place. They don’t care. They still abuse people, they still curse at you, they still threaten you, even with the patrols,” he said. “We tell the operators that the operators should just ignore us.”

Esther Godfrey, a senior who regularly takes the bus, including to go to the grocery store, said she has only seen neighborhood security officers on the bus twice since February.

“I wish there were more,” she said.

“I wish there were more.”–Esther Godfrey

Godfrey says she avoids bus stops she knows are particularly unsafe and has been harassed on the bus in the past.

She decided to buy and carry naloxone with her, because she saw several people in need on the bus or at stops.

“I’ve seen people get shot, and then I go to an appointment and I come back and see them lying on the street,” she said.

Chrismas said Winnipeg police had to be called out to about five attacks.

He said his team members do in some cases call police if people are under the influence or experiencing a mental health crisis, but added that “in many cases” police are not called if the person can be released to a responsible family member or can continue on their way without further intervention.

— With files by Chris Kitching

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Malak Abas
News reporter

Malak Abas is a city reporter at the Free pressBorn and raised in Winnipeg’s North End, she ran the campus newspaper at the University of Manitoba before joining the Free press in 2020. Read more about Malak.

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