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DENVER (KDVR) — The Regional Transportation District tapped a veteran law enforcement chief to lead its public safety response and police force, at a time when concerns over crime and drugs in the transportation network are high.

With three decades of law enforcement experience, and serving as chief of police in four U.S. cities, Joel Fitzgerald Sr. was appointed as RTD’s new police chief Tuesday.

Much of Fitzgerald’s focus as he enters this new role will be addressing the unanimous concerns he heard from stakeholders as he transitioned into the new job.

“I talked to people that ride and use RTD and those people unanimously, not knowing who I was or what I was gonna do, just want to be safe and secure,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re empathetic to people who are unhoused, and people that are mentally ill, and we certainly understand that we have to be empathetic and we have to deliver services and help them connect with services, but we also have to be firm.”

Fitzgerald said law enforcement and safety are primary goals for everyone using RTD.

He also said innovation and accountability will be foundational in RTD’s police department, with him leading the way as chief. One of the first moves he has planned for the department is to push toward accreditation of the department, a move he has done in departments past.

RTD documented at least 178 passenger reports of assault or injury during 2021 and the first two months of 2022, according to a Problem Solvers analysis of RTD records.

Combined, the 15 and 15L bus lines, which travel along Colfax Avenue between Denver and Aurora, accounted for more than a third of all documented incidents.

Fitzgerald was selected following a nationwide search and the resignation of former RTD Chief Robert Grado.

He started his career in 1992 at the Philadelphia Police Department where he served in various ranks over 17 years. Fitzgerald served as the chief of police in the Houston suburb of Missouri City in 2009; Allentown, Pennsylvania, from 2013 to 2015; Fort Worth, Texas, from 2015 to 2019; and was recently the chief deputy of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office in 2020, before being appointed as chief of police in Waterloo, Iowa, in the spring of 2020. Prior to that, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and a Ph.D. in business administration from Northcentral University.