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An Investigation into the Toronto Transit Commission’s Oversight of its Transit Enforcement Unit

The Issue

Ombudsman Toronto began its enquiry on April 2, 2015, one day after social media videos of a January 29, 2015 incident at Union Station gained widespread attention. These videos recorded a physical altercation between two TTC employees and two members of the public. 

Our focus was on the TTC’s system of internal oversight of members of its Transit Enforcement Unit: Transit Enforcement Officers (TEOs) and Transit Fare Inspectors (TFIs).     

TEOs are designated Special Constables by the Toronto Police Services Board. They have powers similar to police officers to enforce laws on TTC property and are authorized to carry and use handcuffs, batons and pepper spray. TFIs inspect and enforce rider Proof of Payment and have the power to issue provincial offences tickets and summonses, but they are not Special Constables. 

In doing their jobs, TEOs and TFIs sometimes find themselves in conflict with TTC users. Routine interactions can at times result in them using force against, or arresting, a member of the public. 

The TTC’s Transit Enforcement Unit is responsible for protecting the safety and integrity of the third largest transit system in North America, which serves more than 500 million people annually. The Transit Enforcement Unit plays a vital role in ensuring that the TTC is safe, for both riders and staff.  The information we gathered during our enquiry raised some questions about how the Transit Enforcement Unit handles training, oversight, and public reporting.

Our Investigation

In March 2016, Ombudsman Toronto launched a formal investigation to examine these issues more closely, and to consider any recommendations that might be required in the public interest to improve the TTC’s oversight of the Unit. As part of this, the investigation included a review of the TTC’s response to the Union Station incident.  

The investigation did not review the actions of the TEOs involved in the Union Station incident.  

Ombudsman Toronto investigators conducted 40 interviews over the course of about 60 hours. Investigators reviewed electronic and physical documents from the Unit, including policy and procedure manuals, training materials, use of force reports, notebook entries, internal reviews, annual reports, complaint investigation files and emails. They also reviewed staff reports and minutes of public meetings of the Police Services Board and the TTC Board, bearing on the issues under investigation.

In addition to interviews with TTC staff, investigators accompanied TEOs and TFIs on several occasions in the field during morning and evening rush-hour periods.

What We Found

The TTC conducted an internal review of the Union Station incident that focused on how to improve internal reporting processes. It did not however examine the incident – which presented a risk to public and staff safety – through a preventative lens, with an aim of considering policies and procedures that could reduce the likelihood of a similar incident in the future. We found that this was a missed opportunity.

Other findings included the following: 

  • The Transit Enforcement Unit’s use of force reporting policy is not clear, and there is no internal system to track use of force incidents. 
  • Its use of force policy does not address the use of de-escalation as an alternative to the use of force.
  • Training materials do not clearly outline how TEOs and TFIs are taught and evaluated on de-escalation skills, and their training on dealing with people with mental illness or in emotional distress is limited. 
  • There is no process for investigating TEO and TFI conduct unless someone makes a complaint, and there is no process for monitoring complaint trends against individual staff members. 
  • The TTC does not report publicly on complaints about TFIs, and its public reporting on TEO complaints is missing important information necessary for transparency and accountability.

Our Impact

We made 26 recommendations aimed at improving the public accountability of the Transit Enforcement Unit, including that the    As highlighted examples, we recommended that the TTC: 

  • Examine the January 29, 2015 Union Station incident to consider whether it could have been avoided and whether policies or procedures to prevent a similar incident from occurring again should be implemented; 
  • Amend its use of force policy and training materials to clearly outline the importance of de-escalation as an alternative to the use of force; 
  • Ensure that TEOs and TFIs receive regular training on responding to people affected by mental illness or in emotional distress; 
  • Publish detailed annual reports on TEO and TFI use of force incidents and complaints including information on trends, incident summaries, complaint outcomes and historical use of force and complaints data to allow for a comparative analysis; Put in place a system to investigate TEO and TFI conduct even where there has been no complaint; and 
  • Improve internal use of force policies and practice, including by the establishment of: o internal systems and processes to monitor, track, and review use of force incidents and to detect and address trends o a new use of force report form to capture important information that can be used to improve training and policies.