A resolution to end transit security contracts with a private firm and the local police departments and instead allocate the $27.3 million toward alternative security approaches and human services was rejected by the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) Board of Directors on Aug. 11.
The board voted 14-1 against Denver RTD Director Shontel Lewis’ resolution, after widely praising her for bringing the idea forward but saying it was too sweeping to be approved after a relatively brief discussion. Many board members also said Denver RTD operators and riders did not want an abrupt end to security officers patrolling the sprawling transit system and responding to incidents.
Others said Denver RTD’s primary function is to move riders, not provide wraparound social services. They noted that the agency already cooperates with many service agencies helping the unhoused, the underfed and riders with disabilities.
Directors also noted that Denver RTD already is one of the few transit agencies in the nation with a full-time mental health counselor providing services and connecting troubled riders to appointments with the Mental Health Center of Denver. Denver RTD’s security branch is applying for funding to add three more mental health positions and a coordinator of services with homeless support agencies.
“I’ve been told by our union that if we fire our security company a number of our drivers will leave, and that will affect everyone,” said Denver RTD Director Kate Williams.
She said Lewis had brought “innovative” ideas with the security proposal, but that the board needed much more information about the performance of the current private contractor, Allied, and comparisons to other security firms and other transit agencies.
Board Chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede said that in addition to ongoing initiatives for more community input and mental health outreach, Denver RTD would spend the coming months reviewing training methods for the private security guards and protocols with partner police departments that supply off-duty officers. Before making such a major change, she said, “we need to have a baseline.”
Lewis said she wished board members had offered constructive criticism and alternatives to the resolution before Tuesday’s meeting, as they often do with other complex decisions. After the resolution was voted down, with Lewis the sole “yes” vote, she said Denver RTD needs to keep discussing how security treats people and whether the system needs different kinds of services.
“Do we really need more security, or do we need to rethink that? That’s what I was putting forward; that was my intention,” Lewis said.