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

RTD is addressing "unwelcome activities" at Union Station. Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledges the weight of the burden.

DENVER — Thursday morning, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) announced a series of security and cleaning changes to address "unwelcome activities" at Union Station.

The Denver Police Department said they've made more than a thousand arrests between Nov. 1 and this past Sunday for drugs, trespassing and outstanding warrants, and they have seized 17 guns -- most of the time in the bus terminal and around the train near the downtown transportation hub. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he knows there was a domino effect after Civic Center Park, located just over a mile away, was temporarily shut down last fall because of health and environmental risks. 

"Absolutely," the mayor said. "Moved to Union Station. We are not lost on what happened here. We saw a lot of the same people move from Civic Center to Union Station. So the reality is look – we are not only doing the law enforcement side of this. We also recognize the vast majority of arrests we are making are drug related. And that we have drug users, we have got drug dealers who are a major part of the challenge we are dealing with at Union Station."

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RTD CEO Debra Johnson said she not only saw the problem firsthand but heard from employees asking her what she was going to do. 

In a press conference, she outlined some of the changes planned for 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.

RELATED: RTD announces changes to Union Station bus concourse

RTD, however, with its focus obviously on transportation, is now trying to help solve safety and public health issues. 

To an extent, Johnson, said it makes sense 

"Public transportation is interwoven into the fabric of the community," she said. "So, recognizing there are going to be residual impacts to public transit -- we do need to be at the table." 

At the same time, RTD knows it cannot be the one solving the deep rooted problems. 

"I'm not a mental health care clinician, nor a social worker," said Johnson. 

"They do have a responsibility for security. They are a part of the security puzzle," said Lance Longenbohn, president of the union representing RTD employees. "The social services are a specialized focus." 

Both said that is why it's critical RTD is pairing with Denver Police, the city and community groups. 

"Unless you address those [issues], you will typically move the problem around," said Longenbohn. 

Hancock said the issue cannot be pinned on one agency to solve, which is why they partnered with police and RTD to come up with their plan to protect the city's transportation hub. 

The city will continue to work on outreach and services for those in need around Union Station. 

"[This] greatly impacts people's sense of safety and security, and of course, downtown thrives on people coming and keeping downtown vibrant," the mayor said. "RTD has a responsibility for the staging area, as well as the terminal for passengers. We usually take care of the perimeter. But we got to make sure we continue to remain in communication, continue to remain in collaboration."

Those partnerships become even more important because some of these changes, like setting up paid fare areas, will take time.

The mayor also said he wants to apply the same security philosophy at the airport to Union Station -- that being if someone is there who isn't traveling, why are you there? Hancock hopes that will help improve security, too. 

RTD, which is also facing staffing shortages, is relying on community partners, including the state legislature, to look at services and resources. 

The Denver Police Department also shared that some people have been re-arrested at Union Station, writing: 

"Between Jan 1st and March 20th, 24 individuals have been arrested four or more times at Denver Union Station... One person has been arrested six times during that timeframe at Union Station, two people have been arrested five times and 21 people have been arrested four or more times at Union Station during that timeframe."

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