RTD: Buses, Trains Are Safer Than Ever Despite Recent Stabbing, Assault

Police and emergency personnel responding to a stabbing on an RTD bus last week. Additional images below.
Police and emergency personnel responding to a stabbing on an RTD bus last week. Additional images below. Fox31
Over recent weeks, there have been a series of high-profile crimes on Regional Transportation District buses in the Denver metro area, including a stabbing, an assault and a case of indecent exposure. Yet an RTD spokesman argues that despite such regrettable incidents, the district's buses, trains and assorted properties are safe — and getting safer all the time.

"In comparison with other major transit agencies, we have a very small number of incidents," says RTD Assistant General Manager of Communications Scott Reed. "Even if there's only one incident, that's a cause for concern for RTD, and we know that our passengers are concerned about that. But over the past several years, we have increased our investment in security, both in terms of personnel and in high-tech video and other methods of combating crime, and we see that trend continuing in the future."

Determining the actual number of crimes committed on vehicles and at stations under RTD control can be tricky, as we explained in a September 2016 post.

At that time, we shared RTD incident reports from last June, July and August that listed 52 assaults over the period, among other data. However, police agencies often use bus stops as markers for crime locations, and as Reed notes, "the vast majority of bus stops — 9,500 of them throughout the RTD district in all or parts of eight counties and forty municipalities — aren't RTD property. They are merely a spot on a sidewalk where there's a sign stating that buses stop there. RTD doesn't own them, and they're under the jurisdictions of local law enforcement."

Courtesy of RTD
The final stats for serious crimes at RTD facilities and vehicles for 2016 show smaller numbers, with no incidents in some major categories and only one that hit double digits. Here they are:
Homicide: 0

Menacing: 6

Robbery: 20

Sexual Assaults: 0

Aggravated Assault — Weapon: 9 (one assault was on a police officer) 
For additional context, compare these figures to those provided by Reed for the year 2014....
Deaths: 0

Homicides: 0

Menacing: (Category wasn't tracked until second quarter of 2015)

Robbery: 19

Sexual Assaults: 0

Aggravated Assault — Weapon: 5 (one assault was on a police officer, another was on a security guard)
...and 2015:
Deaths: 0

Homicides: 0

Menacing: 3

Robbery: 30

Sexual Assaults: 0

Aggravated Assault — Weapon: 9 
The general consistency of the numbers over the three previous years doesn't prevent flare-ups of the sort recently noted by Fox31. A station report pointed out that an RTD bus passenger was stabbed in the vehicle on January 17 near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street in Aurora; the victim survived and a suspect was arrested.

The stabbing followed two other incidents during the past couple of months that were highlighted by Metro Denver Crime Stoppers.

The first: At about 7 p.m. on December 12, a heavyset Hispanic man wearing a construction vest allegedly assaulted a woman on an RTD bus that was stopped at West Fifth Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

Below, see a surveillance image of the man:

Courtesy of Metro Denver Crime Stoppers
Then, at approximately 7:45 a.m. on January 10, a man exposed himself to a passenger on the westbound number 6 RTD bus.

The suspect is described as a six-foot-tall black male in his late thirties or early forties who may be a regular rider of that particular bus, which he exited in the area of Yosemite Street and Lowry Parkway.

Metro Denver Crime Stoppers released the following photo of the suspect:

Courtesy of Metro Denver Crime Stoppers
More recently, Crime Stoppers put out an alert for a man wanted for an assault at Union Station's Chestnut Pavilion.

At 11:06 p.m. on January 11, an unidentified male assaulted a victim and demanded his cell phone.

The suspect was carrying a dark backpack at the time of the attack.

Among the images of the suspect released by the Denver Police Department is this one:

Metro Denver Crime Stoppers
In an effort to prevent such offenses from taking place, RTD has assembled a security staff that includes eight sworn transit-police staffers and dozens of security officers who are under contract. Reed points out that they patrol "our major transit centers, like Denver Union Station, Civic Center Station, which is currently being remodeled, Boulder Transit Center and the new Boulder Transit Village at Depot Square. They also handle security at major bus shelters that we either own or have a revocable permit for, even though they remain under the jurisdiction of the local law enforcement agency."

Reed adds that "over the course of the year, and on an ongoing basis, we deploy hundreds of undercover, extra-duty police officers and our own security offers to patrol and to follow up if there are a higher number of incidents than might be expected in a particular area."

RTD has also been installing high-definition cameras in all new vehicles and working on upgrading the recording devices for older ones. According to Reed, the district's record-management system showed that 9,216 video investigations were performed in 2016 — a number that includes videos pulled in regard to passenger complaints, liability claims and investigations related to the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.

There's also Transit Watch, an app put out by RTD. "People can download it for free, and it provides instant communication with our security and command center," Reed says. "People can text or snap a photo and send that directly through the app — and they can either remain anonymous or provide contact information if they want to get feedback. It provides another set of eyes and ears for RTD, where people can let us know of something that's going on." Click to access the Transit Watch app download page.

Courtesy of RTD
Reed offers an example of the app in action, dating from earlier this month: "We had a passenger report from aboard the light-rail train that someone was behaving inappropriately at a rail station. Within twenty minutes, Denver Police had responded to the scene and arrested the man on an outstanding warrant and for violating a no-trespassing order prohibiting him from being on RTD property."

Although Reed doesn't fault the media for hyping RTD-related crimes, he feels that a lot of the coverage is misleading.

"They're reporting facts, but by the same token, it's not contextual," he allows. "These things are incredibly rare. We carry about 350,000 passenger trips per day and more than 100 million per year. So the odds of being involved in a major incident are extremely small."

Even so, he continues, "that's something we want to continue to focus on and reduce even further, and having the public help us out by reporting incidents through the Transit Watch app or by calling our security command center at 303-299-2911 is a big help."

In the meantime, if you have any information about the suspects in the aforementioned stabbing, assault or indecent-exposure incidents, you're encouraged to contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers, which is offering a reward of up to $2,000 in the cases. The number is 720-913-STOP (7867).
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts