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New RTD police chief promises to refocus on public safety

RTD selected Dr. Joel Fitzgerald Sr. as Chief of Police and Emergency Management to head the agency.

DENVER — The Regional Transportation District (RTD) swore in its new Chief of Police and Emergency Management Tuesday morning as public health and safety have become a top issue for riders in recent months, particularly at Union Station.

Dr. Joel Fitzgerald Sr. is the agency’s third chief and will primarily be responsible for customer safety and security across the eight counties and 40 cities of the Denver Metro region in which RTD operates. 

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Fitzgerald has three decades of law enforcement experience which includes serving as police chief in four U.S. cities. He was sworn into his new position Tuesday morning at a ceremonial event at Denver Union Station.

"They've communicated that they'd like to be more involved in policing and making sure that those who use RTD.. are safe and secure when they use light rail when they use buses and trains," said Fitzgerald about the department's officers. "But they can't do it alone. They do it in concert with security .. with other police agencies."

Union Station has been at the center of complaints about public safety since last fall in part due to drug-related offenses, homelessness, and mental health issues.

"We have to be empathetic, and we have to deliver services and help them connect with services, but we also have to be firm," Fitzgerald said. "We have to understand that law enforcement is a primary goal and safety is a primary goal of everyone that rides RTD and uses our services. So it's incumbent upon us to refocus on our core values and understand why we're here to be that police department where you know, I'm riding RTD and I know I'm going to be safe."

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Fitzgerald began his career in policing in 1992 with the Philadelphia Police Department and served in various ranks over 17 years. In 2009, Fitzgerald was selected as Chief of Police in Missouri City, Texas, a suburb of Houston. He was Chief of Police in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from 2013 through 2015, and Chief of Police in Fort Worth, Texas, from 2015 through 2019. Fitzgerald joined the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office as Chief Deputy in January 2020 and was most recently appointed Chief of Police in Waterloo, Iowa, in May 2020.

In each of the four positions where he served as police chief, Fitzgerald was the first African American to serve in that rank.

RTD’s Transit Police division encompasses the chief of police, one deputy chief, one administrative lieutenant, four sergeants and a team of transit police officers. The division is supported by two 911 dispatch centers, a video investigation unit and more than 600 contracted police and uniformed security officers. Its jurisdiction spans RTD’s service district of nearly 2,400 square miles. Its annual operating budget is $28 million.

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