DENVER -- A FOX31 Denver investigation reveals how a rise in videotaped attacks on Regional Transit District employees is leading to new security measures which may create a safer environment for both bus drivers and passengers.
Our investigative team pulled the stats. The number of assaults on RTD drivers more than doubled last year.
Records show 12 drivers, plus 26 other RTD employees faced physical violence or death threats in 2013 while doing their jobs. Compared to the previous year, assaults on RTD employees jumped 68 percent.
In fact, of all the assaults reported on RTD property in 2013, 40 percent of the attacks were against employees.
A recent example moving its way through the courts is that of Michael Saldana.
It was two days after Christmas when Saldana boarded a bus and is accused of attacking a driver. Videotape of the assault shows Saldana hitting the driver with a bag and fists, then trying to strangle his victim.
Saldana was charged with felony endangering a public transit employee and assault of a peace officer, plus misdemeanor counts of assault and harassment.
FOX 31 Denver also obtained videotape of a dozen other incidents which show drivers getting spit on, slapped, threatened with death, having hot coffee thrown in their faces, and hit with heavy objects.
Passengers like Kristin Bowman don't like riding transit with her daughter Tashia due to safety concerns, but says she has no choice. She says unruly passengers put everyone on the bus in jeopardy, but the driver is often the initial target.
“Yeah. As soon as they get on the bus, that;s who they first see, so that's where it starts and then when they walk through the bus and that's where it continues.”
Another frequent rider, Adreanette Cooper, tells FOX 31 Denver when a volatile passenger boards the rest of the passengers count on the driver to protect them, even though she knows it’s not really their job.
“I feel sorry for them (the drivers). They need to be safe to, I mean, without them, how am I going to go where I need to go?"
Transit Police Officer Amy Homyak thinks the increase in driver assault statistics is the result of a growing emphasis on drivers reporting passenger behaviors --- not an actual increase in violence.
“A lot of them have been doing it for so long they consider it part of their job when it's not part of their job and we're here to make sure it doesn't.”
Homyak tells FOX 31 Denver Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne RTD is about to launch some new safety measures which should help passengers and drivers.
First of all, new high-definition cameras are getting installed on most buses over the next two years. Transit vehicles currently have cameras to record problems but some are very low-quality or non-operational which makes identifying aggressors difficult.
The new cameras will have a “live-feed” feature, which in certain cases can send video directly to security command.
On top of new HD cameras, RTD will soon give passengers the power to quietly report safety concerns with a new cell phone app.
FOX 31 Denver has learned the 'Transit Watch' app is already being used successfully in Los Angeles.
We showed a prototype of the RTD's pending security 'text' feature to mom Kristin Bowman to get her feedback.
Chris: Would you be more likely to report something if you could do it quietly?
Kristin: Quietly? Yes I would. I think it makes things better than worse. You're able to report it and it can get handled more quickly than later.”
“People hesitant to call 911 unless it’s a really big deal, so the app is perfect; direct contact,” Transit Police Commander, Bob Grotto says. “The transit system belongs to all of us and this allows are riders to be involved with their own safety and the safety of the others around them.”
Grotto adds that the cell phone app comes to Denver at a greatly reduced cost in an agreement with LA Transit who absorbed the expense of creating the software features from scratch.
RTD tells us the security app should be available to the public in the next two months.