SURREY – You’re aboard the SkyTrain and see a man fiddling with a knife.
He’s not threatening anyone with it, but has it out in plain view, playing with it at his side. Naturally, the eyes of those in the vicinity gaze toward the weapon.
That situation made a light bulb go off in Jeremy Pearce’s head.
The SFU student wondered why police detachments have community volunteers as "eyes and ears on the streets," but Transit Police did not. He emailed his criminology professor asking the question.
That email went up the ranks to Transit Police Chief Neil Dubord and within 24 hours, Pearce heard from him directly and the two set up a coffee.
"As an aspiring police officer, that was one of the best coffees I’ve ever had," he said, laughing.
Pearce put together a proposal and brought it to the Transit Police Board.
Last week, the idea became a reality, as Transit Police and Surrey Crime Prevention Society (SCPS) officially launched Transit Watch, a community safety project that deploys volunteers to "observe and report" at transit hubs in the City of Surrey including SkyTrain stations and the Newton bus loop.
Karen Reid-Sidhu, executive director of SCPS, said the program is really an extension of the work the organization already does. Last year, through its other program, SCPS’s 300-plus volunteers made 431 calls to Surrey RCMP that generated files. She said she looks forward to the new partnership with Transit Police to further enhance public safety.
Volunteers will be out three nights a week watching for things like public intoxication, vandalism, panhandling and other suspicious behaviour.
The pilot project will kick off in Surrey but Pearce said there have been conversations about how and if it can be expanded to cover the whole transit system.
"There’s a criminology theory, the rationale choice theory, and it’s that crime happens when a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian come together in a time and place. That’s kind of what this program is based off of," said Pearce.
"There’s always going to be motivated offenders, who for whatever reason have to rob, steal, whatever else, but what we can control is the capable guardian component. Police can’t be everywhere at once, but if I have your back and you have mine, we can protect one another. It’s that willingness to get involved and the slogan is ‘See something, say something.’
"When people follow that and actually get involved and take a stance, it can make a huge difference."