New West SkyTrain safety stats challenge assumptions

Photo: Mark Bek
Photo: Mark Bek

I was raised to be a bit paranoid about personal safety. Like many kids raised in the 1980s, it was impressed upon me that the world was a dangerous and unpredictable place. I was taught to fear strangers, to look both ways (and then look again) before crossing the road, to lock the door and close the windows at night, and to be wary of walking the streets after dark. The cautions took, and I am one to triple check the locks before going to sleep,  refuse to cross when the red hand is flashing and get nervous when the sun goes down.

As a dedicated transit user and pedestrian, I have not bought into the popular belief that taking SkyTrain is unsafe, but I do carry with me a mental ranking of which stations feel more or less safe. I was surprised to discover that many of my assumptions were just plain wrong.

The latest crime statistics challenge popular belief of SkyTrain safety in New West. New Westminster SkyTrain, for example, was ranked as the second least secure in a 2008 survey of transit riders, but the actual rate of crime places it 13th on the list. I would have assumed that my home station, 22nd St. SkyTrain, would have ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it’s actually the third-worst station on the line for crime after Surrey Central and Gateway. Columbia Station ranked 10th for crime activity, Braid 11th and Sapperton 19th. The gap between the rate of crime at Surrey Central and Gateway compared to 22nd St. is pretty big, however – the crime rate is almost twice as high at those Surrey stations.

Interestingly, in the 2008 survey, Waterfront was the station where people were most likely to feel safe – but it actually has the fourth highest rate of crime, just behind 22nd St.  Columbia and Braid are about as safe as Scott Rd. New Westminster Station has almost the same rate of crime as Main St. Sapperton is safer than Gilmore, but has a slightly higher rate of crime than Metrotown.

The rate of person crime incidents in or near stations, per 100,000 passengers for New West’s SkyTrain stations are:

  • 1.38 at 22nd St.
  • 0.80 at Columbia
  • 0.79 at Braid
  • 0.71 at New Westminster
  • 0.55 at Sapperton

I do think it’s important to measure the drop in crime as well, however. Some stations have seen huge safety gains in the past year. Biggest improvements:

  • King George & Brentwood (tied) – 78% decline in crime
  • Rupert – 66%
  • Edmonds – 64%
  • Waterfront – 50%
  • New Westminster – 47%

And the stations that saw an increase in crime:

  • Braid – 980% increase
  • 29th Ave – 73%
  • Main St. – 27%
  • Granville – 11%
  • Gilmore – 3%

I’m no statistician, but I do find it interesting to compare the rate of crime to other life risks to get a bit of context in terms of just how “dangerous” it is to commute by SkyTrain.

First of all, B.C.’s overall crime rate in 2008 (notably excluding motor vehicle offences) was 9,600 per 100,000 people – which was an 8% decline from 2007, and the lowest recorded crime rate in 30 years. The average rate of crime on SkyTrain across the system was 0.71. SkyTrain’s overall crime rate dropped by 33% year over year.

I am often frustrated at the perception that taking transit – and in particular, SkyTrain, is less safe than driving. Yet the risk of death related to driving is 16.8 per 100,000 for B.C. males (8.4 for females). That’s about six times higher than the risk of being a victim of any sort of crime in or around the least safe station on the line.

Another big takeaway from reading all these reports on SkyTrain crime is how the safety of the surrounding neighbourhood impacts the rate of crime at any given station. This is something all of us have the power to impact. Whether you’re passing through a station or living nearby, if you see crime, report it. Those of us who live near SkyTrains can paint over graffiti, pick up trash, and take action to correct other minor property damage – research shows that people are more likely to litter when they see litter on the ground, and that leaving graffiti encourages hoodlums to return and add more.

So, do your part to improve the safety of your neighbourhood. And let’s all just get over misplaced fear of SkyTrain.

Poor New West cops!

New Westminster police are putting their snazzy new retro-styled cruisers through their paces. It’s seems like it’s been an unusually busy – and hazardous – week for local law enforcement officers. 

Last Sunday, cops were pepper-sprayed by two youthful ne’er-do-wells near 5th Ave. and 7th St.  The attack happened while arresting the pair, following a call about an attempted theft. One officer was temporarily blinded, but neither teen got away.

On Monday, suspects in a stolen car rammed two police vehicles after the cops trapped them in the McDonald’s drive-thru on McBride. Police fired on the car, and one of the five was injured in the shoulder. The driver ran off, but was later tracked down by a police dog.

After receiving a report of a stolen car, police located it near Eighth Avenue and McBride Boulevard around 1 a.m. When the white Acura entered the nearby McDonald’s restaurant drive-thru, New Westminster police boxed it in. The driver of the stolen vehicle then took “evasive action,” police said, ramming the two police vehicles. The damage was extensive enough that they could not be driven from the scene.

“Once the cars moved into position, one of the officers got out to speak to the driver. That’s when he started ramming the cars,” said Sgt. Gary Weishaar. “The officer had to jump out of the way.”

Source: Woman injured in police shooting | New Westminster Newsleader

Then on Friday, transit police had to Taser a fare-evader at Braid SkyTrain – and one officer fell down an escalator in the scuffle. The unfortunate officer was hospitalized with serious head wounds, as well as injuries to his knees and hands. 

When the officers asked the man to show his fare, he ignored them and fled, Seaman said.

One of the officers tried to stop the man, and a confrontation between an officer and the man ensued.

When the man began to run down an up-escalator, “the physical altercation quickly escalated,” according to the police report.

During the confrontation, an officer fell down the escalator, hitting his head and knees on the sharp edges of the metal steps. Other officers twice Tasered the man, bringing him under control. At that time, a steak knife fell out of the man’s pocket, Seaman said.

Source: Officer wounded, suspect Tasered in SkyTrain fight | Vancouver Sun

Is it just me, or does it seem like there have been more violent incidents being reported lately, not just in New West, but around the Lower Mainland? 

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