RFTA bus security armed with stun guns | AspenTimes.com

RFTA bus security armed with stun guns

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Security guards on late-night Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses are now carrying stun guns as a way of being sure they can protect themselves, drivers and passengers from trouble.

The new policy, which calls for security protection on buses on Friday and Saturday nights, was adopted by RFTA staff with the understanding and blessing of the RFTA board of directors.

“It is a service that is needed,” said Dorothea Farris, a RFTA board member and Pitkin County commissioner. She also is a frequent RFTA bus rider, and although she was not familiar with the new policy, she endorsed it.

“I wish it were not required,” she said. “But if somebody is threatening me on the bus I want somebody with the authority to protect me. I don’t want to have to be afraid because the only person with a weapon is the passenger.”

There have been tales of RFTA personnel finding knives and other weapons on the buses when cleaning up at the end of a day, Farris said.

She added: “Our obligation is to protect those people who are riding the bus.”

The transit agency, which operates buses that run from Aspen to Rifle, initially hired First Line Security on a one-year contract, but that company quit late in 2007, prompting RFTA to hire another firm that started work a week ago. Security guards are on hand at bus stops and on buses traveling from Aspen to the Brush Creek Intercept Lot. In addition, at the end of the night, all the way downvalley to El Jebel.

Tom Dalessandri, former Garfield County Sheriff and before that an Aspen Police Department assistant chief, said his security company runs the security contractor, Colorado Protective Services, at a cost to RFTA of approximately $38 an hour per guard for six-hour shifts. He said he asks that his guards be permitted to carry stun guns, which he stressed are not the Tasers that are capable of firing a charged projectile into a person some distance away. Stun guns involve the touching of the device to the body of the person being subdued.

“It’s more for self-protection, in case things get out of control, if someone were to pull a weapon or if they were overpowering one of our people,” Dalessandri explained.

He said armed security personnel are “not uncommon in this day and age” in mass transportation systems.

His security guards, he said, get the same training as police officers do at police academies, and are instructed that the stun guns are to be used only in defense of the guard, a driver or a passenger, and that the defense is to break off once the attack breaks off.

“Police officers might give chase if someone tries to run away,” he explained. But with his guards, “If someone wants to run away, God bless ’em.”

Starting in late 2006, RFTA arranged to have two security officers per night on hand regularly at the Rubey Park bus station in Aspen, to handle the crowd of revelers spilling out of the bars on Friday and Saturday nights and to ride the late-night buses that travel between Aspen and the intercept lot at Brush Creek Road, and between Aspen and El Jebel.

Those routes unofficially are known as “vomit comets” because riders have often imbibed and a few have been known to hurl. Kent Blackmer, RFTA’s operations director, said they present “a truly frightening picture” of belligerent, highly intoxicated men and women.

When Blackmer discussed the need for security with RFTA’s board of directors in the fall of 2006, he said three drivers had been assaulted over the prior year. Bus drivers also regularly dealt with “people passed out, unable to walk, fighting, hassling other passengers,” Blackmer explained at the time.

The presence of a security officer was intended to make drunks and other unruly riders behave, and let drivers concentrate on the road. RFTA has a “zero tolerance” policy, which means if a person cannot care for themselves or poses a threat to the driver or other passengers, the driver will call the cops.

“It’s going to be an ongoing issue,” declared RFTA chief Dan Blankenship, noting that the rising volume of passengers combines explosively with the inebriation of late-night partiers.

“We think it’s improving safety for the other motorists” when the driver can ignore security concerns and concentrate on driving, Blankenship said, adding, “We really want our services to be safe for people, [and] we’ve kind of left it to them [the security contractor] as to the appropriate manner to do so.”

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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