Celebrating 100 years of the CN Police Service

The CN Police Service celebrated a big milestone in April: their 100-year anniversary. The railway’s police force is definitely a lot bigger than it was a century ago, and its officers cover a much larger area. More than 125 CN Police officers are stationed across the railway’s entire network—from Halifax, N.S., to Prince George, B.C., all the way down the central portion of the U.S. to New Orleans.
Operation Lifesaver spoke to Stephen Covey, CN’s Chief of Police and Chief Security Officer, about the anniversary and how the role of the CN Police has changed over the years
How similar is the CN Police of today to what it was a 100 years ago?  

It’s very different, just like policing in general. I like to tell the story of my father: he was in the RCMP in the 1940s, which is one of the reasons why I became a police officer. Back in his day, policing was very community oriented. There were fewer police officers, so in order to accomplish their role, they really had to be connected to their communities. Then in the 1960s and 70s, policing became more technologically oriented and sort of moved away from that community connection. But beginning in the 2000s, police have really reverted back to the way they were in my father’s time and have become more in touch with the communities in which they operate. That's certainly been the approach of CN Police. In the last 15 years, we've really made it our focus to connect with communities—and we work with Operation Lifesaver to do that. We really believe that rail safety is a shared responsibility. We can't do it on our own, and the communities themselves, as well as other law enforcement or other stakeholders, have a role to play in ensuring the safety and security of the public. We take the community policing approach very seriously, and really try to get our officers connected in their communities and with the people in those communities.
Is there one issue that CN Police officers most commonly deal with?
It's a very different working environment for each of our police officers, but 90 percent of the work that our officers do is around community safety and ensuring that we change the attitudes and behaviours of the general public with respect to rail safety. It’s all about making sure that we reduce and prevent incidents at crossings and due to trespassing. But that can differ depending on where a CN Police officer works. In reality, trespassing may not be an issue in Saskatchewan, but it might be in other areas of the region. So, we've really taken a data-driven approach so that we know exactly what the issues are in every jurisdiction of every police officer. For instance, in the prairie provinces, the big issue is crossing incidents in the wintertime. Whereas in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, it's probably trespassing. If the officers know that, then they focus on activities to change the attitudes and behaviours of those people.
Why is it important that the CN Police are still in existence a hundred years later?

First of all, because we save lives. The number of incidents has reduced by more than half over the last 25 years—and that's largely because we are focused on using these different approaches. So, it's critical that we have a team that is focused on that, and that has the tools to curb those behaviours, so that we can save lives. Secondly, every time an incident happens, the train that's involved is directly impacted—sometimes for hours—while the incident is being dealt with by local police. But it's not just one train. It can be five trains that are coming from the other direction and five trains behind that. When they're stopped, they could be blocking crossings in other communities, and creating other safety hazards. So, the sooner that incident is dealt with, the better. Local police officers are not used to dealing with train incidents. They have no idea that there's a data recorder on the train, or a front-facing video camera on the train. So, our officers are there with their expertise around rail policing to provide those tools to the local police to get that incident dealt with as quickly as possible, and to get the trains moving.

Are you doing anything special to commemorate the hundred-year anniversary?

We’ve had a series of birthday celebrations in most of our yards right across our network. But we also have other activities planned for the rest of the year. During Rail Safety Week (in September), we'll be highlighting our 100-year anniversary, as well as the great partnership that we have with Operation Lifesaver in delivering Rail Safety Week and other key initiatives.