DENVER (KDVR) — RTD will swear in its new transit police chief on Tuesday morning. The transit agency has remained tight-lipped about who will fill the role, but a nationwide search was conducted.
That person is tasked with leading the agency and security department, coming in at a time when transit hubs have been riddled with drugs, assaults and other crimes.
Prevalent problems intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic persist along RTD’s transit lines, including the hub at Union Station. Over the last few months, the FOX31 Problem Solvers have exposed rampant drug use, drug paraphernalia, unsanitary conditions and violent assaults on operators and passengers.
“He started grabbing my face and my nose and I could feel it cracking,” passenger Amy Nelson shared with FOX31, describing an attack on RTD transit. “At one point he had his hand in my eye socket and my eye started to like come off.”
Some operators are put in situations with unruly riders and constantly fear for their lives. Ronald Short, veteran bus operator and vice present of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1001, said the 21,000 operators he represents want to feel safe.
“They just want protection,” Short explained. “They just want to feel safe coming to work, doing their job and then coming home. Stabbings, numerous operators being spit upon, physical assault, being struck, verbal assaults — and as a matter of fact, one of my operators was assaulted this morning. Operators also want to see quicker response times.”
In February, a large drug sweep resulted in the arrest of 42 people at Union Station as pressure for change continued to mount.
Even with new security measures, drivers still suffer attacks
The Regional Transportation District CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson announced a timeline for enhanced security measures for the concourse.
“RTD is pursuing a myriad of initiatives, both short-, mid-, and long-term,” Johnson said in a press conference.
New initiatives were announced to crack down on crime and drug use, including increased security to make officers more visible.
“We still have ways to go,” Short said. “We still have issues that need to be addressed.”
Short added the new measures are a step in the right direction, but shared attacks are still happening, and an operator was hit on Monday morning.
The FOX31 Data Desk has tracked RTD’s calls for service from January of 2022 to now and it shows that calls spiked in March and peaked in May. The numbers also show a decline in calls at Union Station since security was increased but still frequent calls on the light rail.
“Union Station was addressed and now it’s migration, and the bad elements are using the system to migrate to other reaches of the metro area,” Short explained.
RTD’s Transit Police Chief Robert Grado resigned in March and Steve Martingano was appointed to serve as interim chief.
“They do have a daunting task,” Short said. “I hope they bring compassion for the employees and public at large and then just strength, strength in character.”
The swearing-in ceremony is at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and FOX31 will be in attendance.