DENVER (KDVR) – Although he says it is difficult to immediately see and feel the impact of new security tactics at the Regional Transportation District, the vice president of the union that represents bus operators said he is encouraged by the direction in which things are going.
“I think things are moving in the right direction, but I think that in order to be more effective … the social issues (like passenger drug problems) need to be addressed,” said Ronald Short, a veteran bus operator and the vice present of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1001.
“There needs to be a collaboration with all of the surrounding communities that we serve — and not just Denver — because it’s not just a one-agency, one-issue problem. It’s a community problem,” he said.
Short said he still hears complaints from RTD bus operators about passengers who continue to create problems even after they have been arrested or cited.
“Once you address one particular place, like (Denver Union Station), they’re just using the system to go elsewhere,” he said.
What’s changed with RTD security?
Steve Martingano became RTD’s interim police chief in late March. In early April, he implemented impact teams, a security strategy designed to embrace proactive policing. The teams are made up of four armed transit officers. They work on the rail line, on the bus line, as a mental health unit, and as a team that tackles community engagement.
“We only have 22 police officers, but we were following more of a traditional model, where our officers were just going to calls of service. And we cover 2,300 square miles, so some of our officers would have to leave Aurora and have to go down to Lakewood and maybe go up to Evergreen, depending on what the call of service was. We realized we were being very reactive,” he said.
Martingano said he wanted his officers to be “highly visible” in areas that were known to have significant issues.
One of those places, according to a Problem Solvers investigation, was the 15 bus line that runs along Colfax in Aurora and Denver.
“These bus impact teams are really speaking to our operators, trying to find where the issues are,” Martingano said. “They’re trying to be visible, and they’re also reaching out to the local law enforcement agencies to ask for assistance,” he said.
RTD ‘impact teams’ are to help stop problems before boarding
According to Marta Sipeki, the interim assistant general manager for RTD, “The impact teams at the bus stops/stations do mostly two things: make contact with people waiting to get on the vehicle and asking the bus operators as they pull up if there are problems on that particular bus.”
Martingano said the bus impact team has visited hundreds of bus stops, and they have contacted at least 225 bus operators to check whether they feel safe.
“With the contacts they make with people waiting to board the bus, the impact teams are able to head off problems before customers board the buses (such as if a person is openly using drugs, they do not let the person board),” Sipeki said. “Additionally, by asking the operators if there are any problems on the bus, the impact teams can ensure more bus trips are operating safely — by either taking care of the problem while the bus is stopped or being assured by the operator that all is OK,” she said.
Despite the changes, Short, with the union, said feeling the impact of the security changes has not been immediate.
“To say that there has been an effect, there might be, but it’s very minimal compared to where it should be at this point,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to address those issues, so if you’re asking me, ‘Has there been a big change?’ In my opinion, no.”