The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) has pretty low statistics when it comes to activity, but of course they're facing many of the issues that are general to transit and its open environment.
Assistant General Manager Safety, Security & Facilities David Genova says, "Trying to physically protect an environment that's open is just next to impossible. Not only access on to buses and trains and stations, but when you're also trying to look at protecting your critical infrastructure, like some of our stations where the buses go underground.
"How do you protect those portals in a practical way when you have buses coming and going all the time?"
Transit operates in a challenging environment and in some ways it's really hard to mitigate. The layered security approach and security starting during the design phase is what helps keep RTD safe.
"A lot of the things we do with our design criteria, start at the very beginning with how do we make our transit environment as comfortable and safe for our patrons as possible so their perception is that they feel safe," Genova explains. "When we're in the design phase and in our planning phase, we build a lot of things into the project like lighting criteria in stations, video surveillance at all of our rail stations, video surveillance onboard most of our buses and all of our rail vehicles."
With design criteria for all modes, including a design manual on light rail, on commuter rail and on bus-related services, there's a chapter dedicated to safety and security as a starting point for safety.
"That's been a really great tool because if you don't get it in early, you hate to go back," Genova says. And, of course, more expensive.
RTD itself has four officers, but uses off-duty police in Denver and now expanding that into Aurora. Genova says they're looking at using a kind of part-time police because they operate in multiple jurisdictions, and that's a challenge.
"Law enforcement typically won't cross jurisdictions for a variety of reasons, so one of the things we're looking at, that John [RTD Transit Police Chief of Police John Tarbert] has brought forward, is a part-time police model where we would actually hire officers from various jurisdictions that would actually be an RTD employee in a part-time capacity." Genova adds, "Very similar to an off-duty program.
"They would be working under their training, their certification, but they would wear the RTD uniform, since they're our employee."
In Colorado, the definition of a transit peace officer is anywhere within RTD's district, so an officer from Aurora could work anywhere in the district legally, so it's something they're discussing with the board about. Without having to have a full-on police force, it would allow RTD to have a lot more focused police presence.
Chief Tarbert also oversees the 24-hour security command center where all of the video comes to and all of the emergency telephones connect to. The center is staffed like it's a public safety access point (PSAP), just like a 9-1-1 center – usually double-staffed.
It is also linked to the TransitWatch program, the 24-hour hotline riders can call, email or text regarding any issues.
Texting to the 24-hour hotline has proven to be very effective for RTD. If someone is witnessing something and they don't want to draw attention to themselves, sending a text is a discreet way to alert RTD.
"Last year we had 1,400 text messages and out of the 1,400, 900 resulted in arrests at the next stop on either the bus or train," Tarbert says. "It's amazing how effective that is. And the public sees that happening too, so it makes them feel safer."
Fare Inspection and Heightened Visibility
RTD introduced using plain-clothes police officers to do fare inspections on routes. Like most light properties, RTD has a proof-of-payment fare inspection. With the uniformed officers, some argued people would simply avoid them, so other tactics were thrown into place.