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'It’s scary. It’s unsafe': Drug use still rampant on RTD property, Denver7 Investigates learns

Denver7 Investigates went undercover and witnessed firsthand the open use of fentanyl on an RTD train.
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Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-10 00:22:50-04

On a rainy Friday afternoon in May, a light rail car on the H Line to Aurora is sparsely filled with roughly a dozen people. One man hops on the train at the Broadway and I-25 stop and moves to the back of the car.

He finds his way to an open seat with no one sitting across from him and sits quietly for a few minutes as the train passes through the next two stops. Then, he pulls up the hood on his brown jacket, hiding his face and takes out what appears to be a crack pipe and a lighter.

The man turns his head toward the window as he flicks the lighter. Seconds later, a small wisp of smoke wafts above him. Another rider, seated directly behind him facing the opposite direction, looks back as she smells the smoke and immediately gets up and moves across the aisle to a new seat.

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The man then gets off at the next stop and the woman who changed seats comments that she sees drug use like this nearly every day while riding public transportation.

“I feel like there needs to be more security,” she said.

And she’s not alone. The Regional Transportation District has received more than 16,000 complaints from riders and operators regarding drug use on buses, light rail, commuter rail and on RTD grounds since the start of 2022.

“I have three kids and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” said Tara Stover, a single mom, who added that she relies on RTD to get around, but no longer feels safe. “You can see it, you can smell it.


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She also noted people smoking off of a foil, referencing the wide use of fentanyl.

Denver7 Investigates obtained the more than 16,000 complaints filed between January 2022 and April 2023 that were submitted through phone calls, operator calls and in the RTD Transit App. Denver7 also went undercover to capture some of the conditions on the trains and buses and observed some drug use.

Stover said she has submitted complaints in the past.

“It’s everywhere and it’s not safe. It’s dangerous,” she said of the drug use. “They don’t care if there’s a baby next to you. They don’t care if there’s an old lady next to you. It doesn’t matter to them.”

One rider submitted a complaint of someone smoking meth or crack in one car while another noted that there were at least eight people using drugs on a train and asked, “What will it take for RTD to do something about the repeated and flagrant drug use on the trains?”

A bus operator reported an “overwhelming smell” and asked to be allowed to air the bus out, resulting in the cancellation of several trips.

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Stover said she doesn’t believe RTD is doing enough because the drug users are more brazen than in the past.

“Somewhere along the line, people stopped being afraid to just do it out in the open,” she said.

RTD General Manager and CEO Debra Johnson told Denver7 Investigates that curbing drug use and improving public safety is paramount.

She also noted that RTD has a police force that is out on patroland has hired more officers who can make arrests.

“We pride ourselves on delivering public transportation services. This is something that takes collective effort,” Johnson said.

RTD’s police force currently has 25 POST-certified officers with nine new recruits going through the academy this summer. Its goal is to hire more than 200 officers.

RTD Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald recently created sectors to tackle crime throughout RTD’s 2,342-square-mile district. Those zones include four geographic quadrants and a downtown sector across two districts that each have command centers. The effectiveness of this will be determined through analysis data, an RTD spokesperson said.

“All of these are steps in the right direction,” Johnson said.

In the past year, RTD officers have only made 16 controlled substance arrests. Other law enforcement agencies also have the authority to make drug-related arrests on RTD property.

“I have seen improvement,” Johnson said. “Is the issue still there? Yes, it is. Does it cause great angst for our frontline employees and customers as whole? Yes, it does.”

But for Stover, she still wants to see more done to take drugs off of RTD’s trains.

“I have to travel this and I hate the light rail because they get away with it,” she said. “Something needs to be done about it. It’s scary. It’s unsafe.”

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