Commuters demand changes with buses and transport police

DENVER — The Regional Transportation District could see thousands of new passengers this week as fans head to Mile High City. Once the single commuter is gone, those who regularly rely on the service hope their concerns will be heard.

“It’s a real problem when every year you use the RTD on a daily basis, something happens every day… if it’s not someone doing drugs in the back of the bus, it’s is beer, booze, etc. – someone always starts a fight,” Paul Wood said.

As Wood and his wife sat quietly under the Colfax and Peoria bus stop, within minutes passers-by began heckling the couple. They remained seated, indifferent to the commotion.

Wood has been commuting from the RTD bus stop located at Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street for the past four years. Wood and his wife rely on the public transportation system while saving for a car.

“We do our best to save up so we can buy a vehicle, but we also use it so we can make our daily commute to work, doctors and more,” he said.

As the couple finalize a timetable for their big purchase, they hope their concerns about crime on RTD’s bus and train routes will not be ignored.

“They rely on bus drivers who aren’t security…to, you know, handle situations, and they can’t handle it while they’re driving,” he said with a nod. exasperation.

Through a public records request, Denver7 obtained dispatch data from the RTD Transit Police from 2019 to mid-May 2022. In 2019, transit officers responded to 42 assault calls and 18 calls for weapons offences. These numbers have increased to 139 and 87 in 2021, respectively. For narcotics, transit agents were dispatched 33 times in 2019. In the first five months of this year, agents were dispatched 174 times.

“Overall, violent crime has increased dramatically in all cities,” said RTD Acting Police Chief Steven Martingano.

Martiningano said RTD is making progress through partnerships with other agencies like the Denver Police Department.

“These last months, [Denver police] recovered, I think, about 19 or 20 firearms in the Union Station area of ​​Denver,” he said.

Regarding the increase in narcotics calls, Martiningano pointed to two different factors, the first being RTD’s Transit Watch app. Starting earlier this year, commuters can now use the app to report drug offences. Second, the acting chief cited the 2019 state law that made personal drug possession a misdemeanor.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of individuals using narcotics in public because it is not a crime,” he said.

However, when enforcing a crime, the transit police’s hands are often tied. In Denver, RTD Transit Police can only make arrests or write citations for a specified list of crimes within a specified geographic boundary. If a crime falls outside of these parameters, transit officers can detain the suspect, but then must wait for Denver police officers to be dispatched for an arrest to be made.

Wood has seen these circumstances on his travels and calls the practice “counterintuitive.”

“We got shot on a bus the other day, and they had to pull over and wait for the Denver police to show up,” he said.

Wood said he would like to see a variety of changes with the internal workings of RTD, including expanded enforcement capabilities for transit officers and more safety on buses.

A spokesperson for the city of Denver said there are ongoing discussions about expanding the authority of the RTD Transit Police.

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