Responding to violence with more policing is a cop-out

Image by: Katharine Sung

The recent uptick in violence on Toronto public transit prompted the city to respond with a greater police presence on trains, buses, and at TTC stations. Officers will be paid overtime to patrol the transit system and, hopefully, deter potential assailants.

Even Doug Ford knows increased policing is only a band-aid solution to the violence problem, but governments are notorious for applying bandages without ever treating the cause of the bleeding.

We can only call increasing police presence a temporary fix so many times before people realize it’s the only solution our leaders can come up with—and they aren’t exactly straining themselves looking for alternatives. 

The ‘temporary measure’ is used over and over, meanwhile governments drag their feet on putting long term solutions in place. It feels like they will use any excuse to increase the already-inflated police budgets instead of investing in initiatives that could reduce the need for law enforcement.  

While greater police visibility might make some TTC passengers more comfortable, it could do more harm than good for racialized people, those with mental health concerns, and unhoused people. In a city as diverse as Toronto, that’s a large portion of transit users. 

Canada’s social issues are in action on the train platform. We’re seeing the consequences of defunding public services play out, and the current recession is only compounding challenges like food insecurity and homelessness. 

In terms of discouraging violence and improving passengers’ sense of safety, better maintenance of bus and train car interiors, more digital surveillance, and more frequent service could help. Investing more in transit will make for a better, safer experience. 

It’s a mistake to focus on just the TTC and ignore the general upward trend of violence. The problem isn’t limited to transit: hospitals and schools are also documenting more violence. Playing Whack-A-Mole with police as the mallet isn’t effective—or sustainable. 

An ideal response to violence won’t be focused on criminalizing people. There’s a stigma against people experiencing homelessness and drug users, and fellow passengers may be quick to stereotype them, decide they’re a threat, and sick the police on them.

However, because TTC employees aren’t trained to respond to incidents of violence, there is a need for some level of police presence. Even if the TTC had funding for their own security, we shouldn’t always default to police intimidation. Taking care of a city and its residents does a lot more for crime prevention than intimidation.

The city should already be analyzing the statistics on this recent surge of violence to devise prevention tactics. When we know which demographics are perpetrating and the nature of their crimes, it can change how we respond. Complex problems demand multi-faceted solutions—not the same old approach that has zero lasting impact.

There’s no one way to stop crime—let’s stop believing increased policing is our only option. 


Policing, public transportation, Social Issues, Toronto, Transit, violence

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