Metrolinx’s Director of Customer Protective Services and Chief Constable Rod Jones explains the many changes underway to modernize the transit agency’s special constable program and the development of a new mental health initiative on the front-lines.
Transit Safety Division.
Transit Security Division.
Customer Protective Services.
Its name has changed over the years, but whatever it’s called, Customer Protective Services is responsible for keeping the millions of people who use Metrolinx’s services and its staff – safe.
This week on Between the Lines: A Metrolinx Podcast, host Matt Llewellyn speaks with Metrolinx Chief Constable Rod Jones about some of the other new projects (and new look) coming to his team.
Stay tuned – and thank you! – Between The Lines: A Metrolinx Podcast
- Stay tuned – and thank you!
- Episode 21 – Top 5 reasons customers get in touch with GO Transit customer service
- Episode 20 – #AMAwithAMA – Terrifying near miss video, what are sun kinks and Pride Month begins
- Episode 19 – Walking The Entire Eglinton Crosstown Line
- Episode 18 – #AMAwithAMA – GO & UP service changes, rail safety and your transit questions answered
Story by James Wattie, Metrolinx media relations advisor and Between the Lines podcast producer
Want to follow along while you listen? Here’s a full transcript for this episode of Between the Lines:
Between the Lines podcast – Episode #5 transcript
Hey, I’m Matt Llewellyn. Welcome to Between The Lines: A Metrolinx Podcast. Millions of people depend on GO Transit and UP Express every year. Well, this week we talked to the person who’s tasked with keeping all of them safe.
Rod Jones is Metrolinx’s Director of Customer Protective Services, and he’s also the agency’s chief special constable and has worked in the safety and security world for more than three decades. He’s here to discuss the transformation plan that’s taking place inside the security department and we chat about a new mental health program that focuses on crisis outreach.
Rod, tell us broadly about this plan and why the change in the department was needed.
Yeah, thanks, Matt. I mean, first off, when you say three decades, it makes me feel very old.
My gosh, I guess it has been three decades. That’s the first time I’ve heard it pronounced that way. A bunch of things sort of happened in 2020. You think back and you think of of the thought process in a lot of folks minds and the murder of George Floyd as sort of this tipping point of what do we want policing to be going forward? And it’s really a time for the industry to take a look at itself. And I think that Metrolinx and our program, along with the rest of the world, but certainly North America, chose that as a positive opportunity out of a tragedy to really take a look at how we do what we do and is there a better path forward? And is there a better path forward that our customers and our community want for us?
And I think that was sort of the beginning of it. And I’ll just say that there’s a continuum and there are organizations that are quite well advanced and organizations that need a lot more work. I would say that we started quite a ways down on the continuum. And by the continuum, I mean, you know, towards a really good customer service understanding and customer base. But we recognize like everyone else in our industry, that it’s continuous improvement. And while we were sort of ahead of others in a lot of areas, it was a great opportunity to stop and reflect and really plan what we want to be and take the opportunity to put our customers in focus and have them… centered around our customers and providing the service.
So I guess it’s fair to say then, that much of this change is being driven by that larger societal conversation around policing.
Yeah, I think that’s true. And it’s what do we as a society want from police officers? This is like sort of painting it with a broad brush, but it’s the sort of concept of going from a sort of warrior mentality to a guardianship mentality.
And for us, that’s why we landed on this guardians of the journey. We’re in the transportation business, we’re in connecting communities business and we want to see ourselves and present ourselves and provide the concept of a guardianship, rather than the sort of historical idea of law enforcement as enforcers.
So we want to be problem solvers as opposed to enforcers and change our focus on how we interact and what success means to us. For example, in traditional policing, we would sort of say success was the number of arrests and the number of cases sort of cleared and prosecutions brought to a successful conclusion and a different focus or problem solving focus is really being service-centric. A focus on prevention and resolution and the sort of the concept of working with the community, getting rid of this idea of us versus them, that we’re sort of all in this together for the greater good, I guess you could call it.
Is that why there was a name change in the department?
The name change sort of aligns with and was part of the transformation. The name has changed over the years. It was transit, safety and security and then transit safety and then security.
But again, the sort of the concept of security and the emphasis sort of on the enforcement side of things through the guardianship process. This idea of customer protective services and then sort of breaking it down from there to our three main teams, which is customer protection. And that’s our frontline special constables service, our revenue protection team, which is looking after our fare enforcement. And finally, our enterprise protection, which is sort of your classic corporate security function that would look after access control and CCTV and sort of the security culture for internally, for the employees.
I want to go back to one thing that you said, you talked about George Floyd in particular. You were a frontline police officer for a number of years. On a personal note, I want to know how those images and that conversation overall had an effect on you.
The idea of watching almost nine minutes of that really struck home. I mean, it’s counter to everything that that I spent 23 years as a police officer doing. And then the following decade and a half providing work around the world in training and development, it is exactly what we don’t want.
Obviously, we don’t want a murder. But even the circumstances surrounding that before it got to that use of force stage is a lot of the assumptions and the bias for what really was a pretty low level crime. To be honest and fair about it. In the policing profession and certainly from the societal aspect of it, and my own personal feelings, is it was sort of a time that we really realized… Oh, we’ve got to make some changes. And by we the profession of policing, not just Metrolinx, but the changes that we’re going through are happening around around North America, quite honestly.
Part of that conversation has been around what’s been called defunding police, which I think when you sort of take a look at it from a more academic standpoint has really been more about reallocating resources, for example, you know, things such as mental health supports for frontline staff.
Metrolinx is actually doing a bit of that with this new Crisis outreach And Support Team [COAST]. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and why you’re taking this approach?
Yeah, it’s a great example, Matt. Let me back up one sort of step, and I’ll talk to you about our principal priority and that’s protecting people.
And what that means to us is that our customers and our staff feel safe and have confidence to work on and use our transportation network. So that’s that feeling of safety. And what we’re realizing, and COVID certainly made this a lot more evident because a lot of our customers weren’t there, was a high level of our vulnerable population. And these are people that are experiencing homelessness, are suffering from mental health issues, substance abuse issues. And that segment had become more and more and more an issue and impacting this feeling of safety and security to use our network.
And again, a traditional enforcement approach of people that are in crisis or have mental health challenges or have substance abuse challenges doesn’t really align with this problem-solving. And if you think of Metrolinx, the LEAN approach, of actually getting to the root cause of the issue.
So it’s a bit of a long introduction, but the result of that sort of really defining the problem and looking at it is a version of a COAST program. So that’s a crisis outreach and support team that we’re building as part of our team that will be staffed with some mental health professionals, some nurses and outreach workers to provide that sort of in-house expertise, help to work with our officers and other stakeholders in the community to sort of do our part with a focus on reducing the instances of violence and vagrancy and those anti-social behavior issues that we’re experiencing on the network.
That is the focus for Metrolinx and at the same time, to provide part of the solution or be partners in the solution to give folks that need help the help they need.
Can you help illustrate that? I mean, I know there’s no such thing as a typical day in the line of work that your teams do. But can you take us through a type of call that you would say get regularly and perhaps how this approach might help?
Yeah, I mean, I’ll give an example Matt. I mean, if you think of Union Station and you think of the colder weather and a lot of folks that are experiencing homelessness that maybe have been in the parks in different areas of the city, if we use Union Station as an example, they’re going to be drawn to the indoors. And Union Station was a draw and will be a draw again. And if you think of Union Station becoming a shelter of sorts… it does impact that, that feeling of safety. And so for our team, it’s how do we adequately keep Union Station a train station and not have it become a quasi homeless shelter because it’s not fit for that purpose. And so our crisis outreach and support team is one of the key aspects to work with our officers, work with the city of Toronto, for example, with Streets to Homes and other community organizations to get the folks the help, to offer alternatives, find out where the shelters are. Find out where someone can get a warm meal, sort of providing that longer term sort of housing solution for those that are interested in that. I’ll give you an example, and this is sort of a new thing in the world of policing and something that we’re looking at taking a hard look at and this concept of being trauma informed and trauma informed policing. Behind a large percentage of folks in our vulnerable population… behind that at a root cause is some level of trauma. And for us, the better we can be sort of trauma informed and basically have empathy for those that we serve, the better that we can have an understanding of why people behave as they do. And then I’ll go back to the sort of call at Union Station. The better informed the officers can be, the better our response will be. So if you see someone acting out or acting in an anti-social matter, the better understanding that we have of the causes of that, again tactically, the better our response will be. And a lot of times it isn’t an enforcement response. It is, you know, providing the right solutions outside of, say, the judicial system or giving someone a ticket. I mean, that’s been tried and true.
The concept of the Safe Streets Act, where if you go back a few years and the police were giving squeegee kids like homeless folks, tickets for aggressive panhandling that tried and failed. All you resulted in was sort of a revolving door through the judicial process, unpaid tickets and really not solving the problem. So again, it’s more and more and more having our officers becoming more trauma informed, having those experts that can work with us, working with the community because we’re part of the solution.
And when you think about it, we’re running a transportation company. We’re running a service. We are not mental health experts. But if we bring in some of those experts, we can again go back to our basic principle, which is protecting people and providing a safe environment where I feel safe and confident to either work or to be a customer and use our service.
What percentage of calls would you say you think could benefit from this approach for your team?
We’re sort of trending around 36% of our dispatch calls are sort of in the category of loitering, vagrancy type calls. By far the largest contributor to our calls for service were folks call us to come and help. If we add in calls that are sort of tagged medical, mental health, drug and weapon, crimes against person, if you throw all those sort of into the mix., now we’re upwards to 53% of our calls. So it’s a big portion of our business and of the service that we want to be able to again move away from an enforcement aspect to an actual problem solving and creating that safe environment or safe space for our employees to work in and our customers to use.
So you talk Rod about potentially one third or maybe even one half of your calls potentially benefiting from this? I think a lot of people would hear this conversation and want to know your opinion. Why is it then that it seems that there are so many other aspects of policing and security in so many other departments and forces, not just here in Canada but across North America, that perhaps seem hesitant to adopt something like this. Like, I know you’ve said that you’re a transit agency, not necessarily a social agency, but clearly there are benefits from this. Why do you think there is that hesitancy out there?
If you think of it as a continuum and different organizations and different places are at different spots in the continuum.
And I’ll give you a quick example. Last year, I worked with two policing organizations, one that I think are world leaders in this type of policing, in a little place called LaGrange Georgia and another one that I think is sort of at the far end of evolution and need, which is the Chicago Police Department.
And it’s a completely different sort of set up and one’s that one of the largest police departments in the US and one’s smaller about the same size as our team, actually. But the approaches are there in that they both want to get to a level where there’s a rebuilding of trust and it’s just a matter of how you get there. And for us, it’s kind of creating a values driven organization, which I think is why when we did our restructure, where we started, was really with our mission outlining what our strategic priorities are.
And one of which is building a skilled and specialized workforce. We’re a transit organization. We’re not a general duties police service. We don’t want to be a general duties police service. There are police services all across our network that will that will look after policing.
For us, we want to be skilled and specialists in our areas, and that may be, for example, on train deployments or having our officers back on the trains and providing that service and that level of comfort. I think folks will get there, as far as different organizations, I think everyone understands that that is the future. It’s just again to use the analogy: you’ve got people that camp out the night before at the Apple Store to get to get the new iPhone.
And that’s your early adopters. And then you’re going to have your majority afterwards and then you’re sort of laggards. And I think that’s true in a lot of different things. It’s true in the profession of policing. So you’ve got your folks that are out front and being on the sort of cutting edge of it and those folks that will come after. We’ve seen the need and the desire to be sort of on the cutting edge of it. So we’re trying to be groundbreaking, certainly in the area of transit protection and looking to best practices around the world, quite frankly, of things that we can add to our experience.
This is a first step, but where do you see this going from here?
It is a giant social experiment, Matt. We’ve got a lot of good ideas. We’re going to have to try them out, measure the data points and measure the success.
If the program is successful, do we need more outreach workers and less enforcement officers? Or do we need a different type of enforcement officer? Even the word enforcement officer, I don’t think it’s the right language and I had to correct myself for that, you know, a customer protection officer.
And what that entails. So for us, you know, sort of next steps is… one of the things that are what will be coming, Metrolinx staff will see is a different unifrorm. And that’s on purpose. And again, t’s a visual identity and we want to be more approachable.
We want to be more visible and we want to take the initiative and go out and interact with our customers and community and the presence of the officer and what they look like is part of that. So there’s a uniform refresh that’s coming.
We’re looking at our job descriptions for the different positions like the special constable position. One of the things we’re thinking about is sort of our talent pool that we want to draw from. And sort of, if you think sort of traditionally coming from a sort of a law and security college background, and that’s great and you’ll get some really good candidates from that. But sort of expanding that and looking at other areas because we’re looking for the right quality traits of people. We’ve got a great training program and we can train them on the rules and the laws, but really having the people that want to make a career with us and have the right qualities. There’s a couple of key areas that we’re thinking about that might be great target markets for us, and that’s people leaving nursing and people leaving the airline industry and flight attendants. Maybe not a typical recruitment pool, but it’s certainly something to think about in the future.
They’re customer service oriented. They know how to take charge in an emergency. They have, you know, the built-in qualities I think that we’re looking for. We can train them on the rules and the laws and in that type of thing, that’s not an issue, but sort of having that mindset.
And that’s really what we’re going after going forward: folks with the right mindset to stay with us and build a career here. We do want to do a lot more work on outreach and working with our community groups.
I think that’s an area of focus for the future. Investing in our staff is… I should’ve started with that, but I’ll put a big star there. I mean, the more that we can invest in training and developing our staff, I mentioned trauma informed policing, but in all aspects of development, the better we invest in our team, the better the outcome will be on our priorities. And really, we’re in the people business. So interactions before with with our customers and our community and continuing that trusting relationship or building and enhancing the trusting relationship
So that new uniform, does it still look like what I think people would identify as a traditional police officer look?
I guess I’ll say it’s sort of a softer look. And one of the things… and this isn’t for specifically Metrolinx, but in general, one of the things that we’ve had feedback from and we’ve done our own consultation… Through the summer, we did quite a large survey of our customer and community base. We did a town hall this summer, so we heard from our customers and this approachability factor and the visibility factor… We’re looking at keeping a high viz, but going to a less law enforcement approach, look and individuality. For example, getting away from a forged cap like a police officer’s cap and going to a baseball cap. We were doing some work with a professor that took this on as his Ph.D. area of study on this approachability.
And for a lot of our population, especially in the Greater Toronto area coming from different parts of the world and seeing a typical police officer look means different things in different parts of the world. And if we can have a approach that is still visible, still recognizable as a special constable and remove some of the negativity and the stereotypes that go with it, I think we’ll land there. So one of the things that we’re looking at and others others are looking at is sort of demilitarizing the look. This concept of yes, you know, you certainly have to have a certain level of PPE.
There’s equipment that the officers have to have. But again, it’s how that equipment is displayed or not displayed in the visual look that is a little bit cleaner and softer, more customer approachability, approachability in general, yet still maintaining the essence of what we need for doing the job.
It is sort of a gentle step away from a hard enforcement look to a still visible, actually more visible and approachable presence.
Rod, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.
My pleasure. Thanks so much.
That’s Between The Lines: A Metrolinx Podcast for this week. Thanks for your time.
We know there are a lot of choices out there and we appreciate you checking us out. Now, do you have a question that you’d like answered on a transit topic that you’re interested in hearing more about? Be sure to send us an email podcast at Metrolinx dot com.
And if you do like what you’re hearing, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. James Wattie is our producer. He also edits each episode and handles our social, and I’m Matt Llewellyn.