The origins of Transit Police are rooted in the 1890s with the watchmen of the British Columbia Electric Railway. In the 1900s the B.C.E.R. Railway Constables were the first law enforcement appointed to protect the Vancouver and Victoria areas’ electric streetcar and tram systems.
The British Columbia Electric Railway, which had previously been three separate streetcar companies in Victoria, Vancouver, and New Westminster, employed watchmen to protect their first depots and power plants. These watchmen would later transition to become BC Electric security, and are still operating today in the form of TransLink Security, BC Transit Security, and BC Hydro Security.
The B.C.E.R. employed special constables appointed under the BC Railway Act. These constables were employed as watchmen, for special projects & special events, or in the case of the Great War – to protect against enemy sabotage. By 1915, as part of wartime measures, 31 special constables were assigned to key infrastructure points along transmission lines and key facilities across Vancouver, Indian Arm, and Burrard Inlet.
It was on March 19, 1915 that Special Constable Charles Painter was shot and killed on duty while attempting to arrest a thief along the rail tracks adjacent to False Creek. His death remains the only line of duty death in Transit Police’s history.
After the Great War, the use of constables by B.C.E.R. dwindled before returning on June 18, 1940 with the creation of the Special Protection Force – an armed special constable team established to protect against enemy sabotage. Most of their members were ex-military and were appointed as special provincial or municipal constables, depending on their location. They were posted to transmission lines, power plants and substations, and transportation hubs, similar to the special constables of the Great War. After victory in Japan, the force was disbanded, and the B.C.E.R. returned to having watchmen as their sole protective staff.
In 1949, BC Electric hired their first security officer and began transitioning the watchmen to security staff. The security section’s new focus would be on preventing loss and vandalism, as well as protecting properties through patrols.
In 1962, W.A.C. Bennett’s government nationalized B.C. Electric and combined it with the B.C. Power Commission to create the B.C. Hydro & Power Authority. The security section continued to operate under the new crown corporation. By 1972 this section had grown to 40 members who responded by radio car to power plants, transmission lines, and transportation depots.
In 1979 the provincial government created the Urban Transit Authority, and BC Hydro’s transit service was moved to the new Metro Transit Operating Company. Transit Security was part of the new organization, retaining most of the same employees from BC Hydro Security. In 1982 the organization changed again, but primarily in name – to BC Transit.
When SkyTrain began operating in December 1985, fifteen Special Provincial Constables were appointed to BC Transit’s Vancouver Regional Transit System. The Special Constables did not carry firearms but had powers of arrest and were able to serve violation tickets.
As the transit system grew, so did the need for increased security and safety. The Special Constables earned their own access to law enforcement databases and played an active role in submitting reports to crown counsel for criminal acts against transit staff and property. However, they did not have the power to enforce drug laws, could not leave transit property and could not assist in anything that happened outside transit property.
By 2003, 16 stations had been added to the original 15; B-Line bus routes were very popular and ridership had increased exponentially. TransLink (legally the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, who became the Special Constables’ employer when it was created in 1999) applied to have the Special Constables transitioned into a Designated Policing Unit, a move strongly supported by the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police. Studies and assessments were conducted and once approved, the transition into a police service was complete.
Transit Police became operational in December 2005. Many of the Special Constables transitioned into fully qualified police officers after completing the training at the Police Academy at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.
In 2009, new constables were added in anticipation of the launch of the new Canada Line. The Canada Line became operational in August of that year, adding 19 kilometres of track and 16 stations to the light rail system.
Throughout the 2010 Olympics, Metro Vancouver saw an unprecedented number of travellers. Working very closely with our police and transit partners, we provided a safe, secure and resilient public transit system for 1.6 million people each day during the Olympic period.
Transit Police’s participation in the Olympic Games security effort was the most intensively executed operation in the organization’s history.
In early 2015, Transit Police changed officer deployment. Our vast service area was divided into two separate divisions (East and West), each with their own commanding inspector. Under the two divisions, six distinct geographic Community Service Areas (CSAs) were established. These six CSAs are routinely patrolled by the same Transit Police officers day-in and day-out. Find out more about our Community Policing Model.