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Off the Rails: Calls for police on Auckland trains continue

FEATURE: NZ Security, April 2015

On the evening of Saturday 13 December, nearly 100 brawling youths disrupted train services following Christmas in the Park and the Ragamuffin music festival. 15 security guards and Maori wardens struggled to contain the crowd. The brawl was over quickly, but violence at Glen Innes the same night resulted in $20,000 damage to a train.

In July, in an Auckland Council press release, Manurewa Local Board chairperson Angela Dalton had commented that the Police had been warning Auckland Transport for months about problems with unsecured train stations. “In light of failed ad hoc solutions such as contracted ticket inspectors and security guards operating from time-to-time”, stated Ms Dalton, “a more radical response may be required.”

That same month, press reports covered the news that a proposal for transit police to patrol Auckland trains was being considered by Auckland Transport as a “long-term option” to curb violence on trains. In one such report, Auckland councillor and former policeman George Wood was quoted as saying that transit police were “long overdue”.

The Britomart incident has only served to intensify calls for policing on Auckland trains, with Cr Wood again expressing to the NZ Security Magazine deep concern over the increasing examples of violence and theft in the rail system. “The number of incidents is very high”, argues Cr Wood, “and Britomart is likely not the worst”.

“Unfortunately, security officers don’t have any powers, so they cant intervene. We have been lobbying Auckland Transport into doing something for well over two years, and the situation hasn’t improved. There doesn’t seem to be any end to the problem of the lack of intervention by Auckland Transport and the police.”

The Land Transport Act provides for spot fines of $150 and court penalties of up to $500 for fare evaders on any form of passenger transport service, but that requires police intervention. And despite the introduction of lapel-mounted cameras for fare inspectors in mid-2014, fare evasion appears to have been on the increase.

Cr Wood observes that according to Auckland Transport estimates, 6% of passengers are not paying. Other estimates suggest the figure is at least 11%. According to a March 2014 post on, rising fare evasion “seems to be the result of more and more people realising the chance of getting caught without a ticket is low and even if they do get caught, the ticket inspectors are powerless to do anything.”

A lack of gates at stations has also been blamed for promoting fare evasion, and perimeter gaps along the rail network are being blamed for encouraging damage and vandalism to Auckland Transport property.

“There needs to be more coordination”, argues Cr Wood. “With no police on platforms and in trains it can be a long time before security staff receive police backup when they need it.” He points out that there were no police at Britomart on 13 December.

“Police are always telling us how stretched they are. The New South Wales police have 600 dedicated officers for the rail system. I would like to see Auckland follow the New South Wales model, but the cost of this would be more than what the government would be prepared to put in.” 

The NSW Police Force took over policing of that state’s public transport network on 1 May 2012. The Police Transport Command (PTC) was established to provide high-visibility policing across the transport network. According to the NSW Police website, PTC officers are trained in counter- terrorism, criminal detection and conflict resolution and are empowered to arrest anyone who breaks the law on public transport.

In addition to uniform patrols, special teams operate in plain clothes targeting identified problem areas and graffiti vandalism. PTC officers detect and prosecute offenders for a variety of matters including malicious damage, graffiti and trespassing in the rail corridor. The PTC also provides an intelligence-based response to transport crime during busy times and at hotspot locations. This includes a focus on special events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations, Anzac Day and major sporting events.

Apart from the rail network, the PTC makes patrols of bus interchanges, bus stops, bus patrols and routes, ferries and wharves, ferry patrols, and taxi ranks and pick up points.

But Greg Watts, Managing Director of the New Zealand Security Association questions the need for more police on Auckland trains. “The first question I’d ask is what are the numbers? There needs to be some statistics around this.”

Greg suggests that there are other things that Auckland Transport could be doing to improve security around its network, and for less money.

“Council could place increased security at certain times and during big events”, he suggests. More security staff could also be deployed to violence hot spots. “Some incidents could possibly be deterred by greater CCTV surveillance, as has been the case in London.”

On the question of how an Auckland model might be funded, Cr Wood points out that “Policing is a government responsibility.” Greg’s not too sure about that. “The Police don’t have the budget to be putting more police on trains and platforms”, he points out.

Despite the ongoing debate around the state of security in the rail system, however, calls for greater policing of Auckland trains appear to be falling on deaf ears with neither Auckland Council nor the central government prepared to throw more funding on what has become an ongoing public transport security issue.

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Former policeman: Auckland councillor George Wood says transit police are “long overdue”

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