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'It's a real issue': RTD commuters make plea for changes with buses, transit police

Commuters plea for changes with buses and transit police
Posted at 7:09 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 12:50:25-04

DENVER — The Regional Transportation District could see thousands of new riders this week as fans make their way to the Mile High City. Once the one-off commuter leaves, those who steadily rely on the service hope their concerns will be heard.

"It's a real issue when, every year, you're using the RTD on a daily basis, you have something happen every day... if it's not somebody doing drugs in the back of the bus, it's beer, alcohol, what not — someone's always starting fights," Paul Wood said.

As Wood and his wife sat quietly underneath the Colfax and Peoria bus stop, within a matter of minutes, passerby begin to heckle the couple. They sat unfazed by the commotion.

Wood has commuted from from the RTD bus stop located on Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street for the past four years. Wood and his wife rely on the public transit system while they save for a car.

"We're trying our best to save up to be able to purchase a vehicle, but we also use it to be able to have our daily commute to work, to doctors and more," he said.

While the couple finalizes a timetable for their big purchase, they're hoping their concerns about crime on RTD's bus and rail lines won't be ignored.

"They rely on the bus drivers who are not security ... to, you know, handle the situations, and they can't handle it while they're driving," he said with a sigh of exasperation.

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

"Overall violent crime has gone up dramatically throughout all the cities," RTD Interim Police Chief Steven Martingano said.

Martingano said that RTD was making progress through partnerships with other agencies like the Denver Police Department.

"In the last several months, [Denver police] recovered, I think, about 19 or 20 firearms within the Denver Union Station area," he said.

As for the increase in calls pertaining to narcotics, Martingano pointed to two different factors — the first being RTD's Transit Watch app. As of early this year, commuters can now use the app to report drug offenses. Secondly, the interim chief cited the 2019 state law that made personal drug possession a misdemeanor offense.

"We're seeing an uptick of individuals utilizing narcotics in public because it's not a felony," he said.

However, during the enforcement of any crime, the hands of transit police are often times tied. In Denver, RTD transit police can only make arrests or write citations for a specified list of crimes within a specified geographical boundary. If a crime falls outside of these parameters, transit officers can detain the suspect, but then they must wait for Denver police officers to be dispatched for an arrest to be made.

Wood has seen these circumstances on his commutes and calls the practice "counterintuitive."

"We had a bus shot at the other day, and they had to pull over and wait for Denver police to show up," he said.

Wood said he'd like to see a variety of changes with the inner-workings of RTD, including expanded enforcement capabilities for transit officers and more security on buses.

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