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Illegal drugs behind Union Station safety issues, not homelessness, Hancock says

Mayor Hancock said the use and sale of illegal drugs and related violence need to be addressed and that issues were not driven by homelessness.

DENVER — Mayor Michael Hancock (D-Denver) and Regional Transportation District (RTD) CEO Debra Johnson provided details Wednesday on efforts to improve safety at Union Station and in the surrounding area, including more than 1,000 arrests since November.

Hancock made it clear that the use and sale of illegal drugs and related violence are key factors that need to be addressed and that issues at the Denver landmark were not driven by homelessness.

"This continues to be an unprecedented, eye-opening experience in the life of our city," Hancock said. "Unfortunately, this is the season in our nation where we are seeing an amazing surge of synthetic opioids, fentanyl and other deadly, dangerous drugs being proliferated across our cities."

The Denver Police Department (DPD) is conducting high visibility patrols and executed 15 planned operations resulting in more than 1,000 arrests between November and March 22. That included more than 700 arrests made at the Union Station concourse and terminal over the first two and a half months of 2022.

The focus was on long-term narcotic operations in the Union Station area, and 233 of the 2022 first-quarter arrests involved narcotics, including multiple drug dealers, according to Hancock.

In addition, there have been 101 arrests of repeat offenders violating area restrictions that were put in place March 1.

There have also been 17 handguns recovered between November and March.

"Let me be clear, the sale and use of deadly, illegal drugs and the violence and criminal behavior this activity invites will not be tolerated or normalized in our city," Hancock said.

Hancock said the city has worked with RTD since last fall to address the safety concerns and that "firm compassion" is the approach that is being taken.

"We have engaged community partners and co-responders on ongoing outreach efforts, offering support for people who are sick or in need of housing, diverting those who are willing to accept help," Hancock said.

However, Hancock stressed that it is the sale and use of illegal drugs and not homelessness that is at the core of the Union Station issues.

Hancock and Johnson also discussed the process for identifying and implementing environmental changes that were recently announced, and the continued partnership between the city and RTD to improve public safety and public health.

RELATED: RTD announces changes to Union Station bus concourse

RTD announced last week it will make changes in response to "unwelcome activity" at the Union Station bus concourse and surrounding area.

"Restoring a welcoming environment and ensuring the safety and security of our employees, our customers and everyone who visits and lives or works near Denver Union Station is a top priority," Johnson said during a news conference about RTD's plans.

Johnson said within the next six months:

  • Inoperative lighting will be replaced throughout the bus concourse.
  • Cleaning will be increased in the bus concourse.
  • Prerecorded audio announcements will be broadcast in English and Spanish. These announcements will include information on services, fares and public safety, "and hopefully will discourage unwanted activities," Johnson said. 
  • Electrical outlets in walkways will be deactivated or covered.
  • Restrooms, which have been closed since Dec.3, are expected to reopen during the second quarter of 2022 after extensive cleaning and repairs.

In six to 12 months, Johnson said:

  • TV monitors displaying security camera feeds will be installed at the main entrances. 
  • Commuter rail platform stairs will be converted to exit-only. 
  • Barriers will be installed to prevent access to areas between the elevators and glass walls at the Wewatta and Chestnut pavilions.
  • Floor decals and signage will be installed to encourage movement and discourage loitering.
  • Smoke detectors will be installed in restrooms.

Over the long term, Johnson said paid fare areas will be established, meaning only people who present appropriate fare will have access to the bus concourse.

RELATED: With 'unwelcome activities' plaguing Union Station, who's responsible for addressing it?

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