The Renton Transit Center has become a safer and friendlier place, according to city officials, with the addition of private security guards who are patrolling downtown on foot and bike.
The Visitor Information and Downtown Assistance, or VIDA, which started in early July, is part of a broader city public-safety initiative to reduce crime and promote a sense of safety downtown and in the Renton community.
“Public safety is the cornerstone of a civil society and it is our responsibility to ensure that we do everything possible to make our neighborhoods and community feel safe,” said Mayor Denis Law.
The VIDA program, he said, is one of of the city’s “innovative strategies” that will help ensure “downtown Renton continues to be a wonderful, safe place for residents and visitors.”
Besides the bike-riding security guards, also visible downtown are Renton police officers who are patrolling downtown on foot.
The private security guards are unarmed and can’t issue citations. But they perform a valuable service for the city.
“We are the eyes and the ears for the police here,” said Josh Munoz, who along with Ron Jackson were riding their bikes through the downtown Renton Transit Center on Friday.
They wear distinctive black and yellow uniforms.
The idea is for the officers to provide information, report vandalism and graffiti, deter criminal activity and extend a helping hand when needed to Renton businesses, citizens and visitors, according to city officials.
Jackson said they’re spending time talking with merchants about any problems they’re facing and taking corrective action, which includes some crowd control.
Jackson said they want to make bus riders feel comfortable, which means getting them on and off the bus without having to walk through a crowd.
So far, Munoz and Jackson say, the reaction has been “very positive.” The security guards staff the transit center 2 – 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
A local security company, Dotson Security Services, has a $65,000, six-month contract with the city to provide the service. The first three months is a probationary period, according to Gypsy Munoz, the company’s marketing executive.
However, he’s comfortable the company will pass its probationary period, based on the “many good plaudits” they’ve received, he said.
The city has been actively working on a comprehensive plan to reduce criminal activity and enhance overall safety throughout Renton. The plan includes additional security, increased patrols, security cameras, enhanced code-enforcement efforts and a significant emphasis on traffic safety.
Also increasing police presence downtown is the relocation of the Renton Police Special Operations Division and of the police traffic unit to the transit center.