The Metro Vancouver Transit Police, the only force of its type in Canada, has been involved in deadly confrontations in Surrey before but Wednesday afternoon marked the first time once of its own has been wounded by gunfire.
Constable Josh Harms, 27, is recovering in hospital after being shot twice in the arm, on the platform of the Scott Road SkyTrain Station.
The transit police’s 183 officers and 72 other staff are responsible for policing 63 stations along 144 kilometres of rail, a fleet of more than 1,500 buses on 200 routes, and Seabus. The serve and protect more than 400,000 riders each day along this public transportation network.
These officers deal not only with fare cheats, drunks, loitering, panhandling, and fighting, but also stabbings, suicides, assaults, perverts, gangsters, drug traffickers and robbers. They also work in tandem with other police forces. For example, in January 2015 the Transit Police and Surrey RCMP launched a joint project focusing on Surrey’s major transit hubs.
Harms, who has served three years with the Transit Police, was on patrol when he was shot, shortly after 4 o’clock. The Surrey RCMP has not released many details about the investigation, except to say Harms did not fire his gun. At this time of writing they had yet to arrest a suspect.
The force, originally operating under the unwieldy moniker Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service, began as full-fledged police force of 70 officers in December 2005, outfitted with full policing powers and carrying .40-calibre Glocks.
“Send a carpenter out to work, you send him with a hammer. Send a police officer out to work, he has to have his sidearm, pepper spray, baton, handcuffs. Tools of the trade,” Constable Al Clapp told this reporter, while on patrol in Surrey in December 2005. His partner at the time, Constable Mert Wales, agreed. “That’s all it is. It’s not about running around like Marshall Dillon.”
Speaking of marshalls, the transit police’s history harkens back to the 1890s, when the Watchmen of the British Columbia Electric Railway were tasked with protecting the company’s depots and power plants and later on, trams and electric street cars in Victoria and Vancouver.
According to the Transit Police’s website, a Special Constable named Charles Painter was shot and killed on March 19, 1915, while trying to arrest a thief along the rail line near False Creek in Vancouver.
“His death remains the only line of duty death in Transit Police’s history,” the website reveals.
Meantime, the Transit Police were involved in two deaths in Surrey, both in 2014.
Transit Police arrested Ernest Shawn Moosomin, 41, near the Surrey Central bus loop, on July 31, 2014, under the Mental Health Act for “irrational behavior” on a Coast Mountain bus.
“He was rambling incoherently and hiding under a seat in the bus,” Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said at the time. The officers drove Moosomin to Surrey Memorial Hospital in a patrol car, to be examined, but upon arrival he was found to be in “medical distress” in the back seat.
“Despite the medical assistance, he was pronounced dead at 39 minutes after midnight.”
A BC Coroners Service inquest jury found his death was accidental.
On Dec. 28, 2014 Transit Police shot Naverone Woods, 23, of Hazelton B.C., at the Safeway grocery store at 10355 King George Boulevard in Whalley, after he grabbed a knife, stabbed himself and advanced on police. He was pronounced dead at Royal Columbian Hospital, in the operating room.
The director of the Independent Investigation Office, a police watchdog group based in Whalley, found a Transit Police officer not guilty of any crime when she shot the knife-wielding man dead but questioned why she and her partner were not equipped with a less lethal weapon, specifically a Taser.
An autopsy found Woods stabbed himself 14 times and died of “stab and gunshot wounds to the right arm and torso.”
The Surrey-based Independent Investigation Office of B.C. (IIO), was set up in September 2012 with the aim of keeping B.C. police officers accountable in cases involving death or serious injury.
“The use of force would appear to be reasonable given the totality of the circumstances,” Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal found in Naverone’s case.