News / Toronto

TTC needs better oversight of enforcement officers, says ombudsman

Report from city watchdog determined policy on reporting use of force isn't clear, and officers lack mental health training.

A father and son whose altercation with a pair of transit officers was captured in a 2015 YouTube video are suing the TTC.

Youtube

A father and son whose altercation with a pair of transit officers was captured in a 2015 YouTube video are suing the TTC.

The TTC must strengthen the oversight of its transit enforcement unit, according to an investigation by the city ombudsman that was prompted by a violent altercation at Union Station two years ago.

In a 74-page report released Friday, Ombudsman Susan Opler determined that the unit’s policy around reporting use of force “is not clear” and that training in dealing with people affected by mental illness is “limited.”

Her report made 26 recommendations, all of which the TTC has agreed to implement.

“As a public organization employing staff with similar powers to those of police officers and the authority to use force against and arrest citizens, the public interest requires that the TTC have a comprehensive, effective and publicly accessible oversight system in place,” Opler wrote.

The ombudsman’s office launched its review in April 2015, days after video that showed transit enforcement officers repeatedly punching and hitting two men who were leaving a Toronto Maple Leafs game began circulating widely online. The footage of the Jan. 29, 2015 melee sparked concern from the public and city officials about use of force by TTC officers.

The ombudsman didn’t examine the conduct of the two officers in that case, who were cleared of any wrongdoing by a separate police investigation.

The TTC had already improved its use of force reporting in the wake of the incident and while Opler said the transit agency “should be credited” for taking those steps, her investigation “reveals that more should have been done.”

In his written response to the report, TTC CEO Andy Byford thanked the ombudsman for her “thorough investigation” and said “we agree with and support the recommendations in your report.”

The recommendations include amending the enforcement unit’s use of force policies to emphasize de-escalation techniques, ensuring that unit members receive regular mental illness training, implementing a process to investigate officers even in the absence of a public complaint, and installing cameras on all transit patrol vehicles.

Byford said that 23 of the 26 recommendations are already in progress and one has already been implemented. The remainder will be implemented this year, he said, although it will take until the end of 2018 to finish installing cameras on patrol vehicles.

The transit enforcement unit consists of 41 enforcement officers and 68 fare inspectors.

The Toronto Police Services Board has designated enforcement officers as “special constables,” which grants them limited police powers including the authority to make arrests and enforce certain sections of the criminal code. They’re authorized to carry and use handcuffs, pepper spray, and a baton.

But unlike police officers, members of the unit aren’t subject to provincial oversight from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director or the Special Investigations Unit. Instead, oversight responsibility falls to the TTC and the police board.

According to the unit’s 2016 annual report, last year officers employed use of force “beyond physical control and compliant handcuffing” on 14 occasions.

Ten of the incidents involved “empty hand techniques” to arrest non-compliant suspects. Officers used batons to “effect pressure point compliance” on three occasions, and struck someone with a baton once.

More on Metronews.ca