Dayton police have responded to hundreds of calls for service for disturbances and concerns near the downtown bus hub in the last six months, leading to increased attention on the area and questions about causes and solutions.
Local leaders say downtown generally is very safe, but police frequently are being called to the specific area around the transit center — just north of Fourth Street, between Main and Jefferson — for disorderly subjects, fights, assaults, juvenile complaints and mental health and welfare checks, police data show.
“The population density related to areas such as transit centers often require police agencies to deploy resources to ensure the safety of citizens,” said Dayton police Major Jason Hall, commander of the patrol operations division.
Since mid-August, Dayton police have responded to more than 350 calls for service at and around Wright Stop Plaza, which is the downtown transit center, according to police department data. That’s the equivalent of about two official calls per day, every day, to a site that already has a frequent police presence.
About one in three of the police calls for service were for disorderly subjects, while more than two dozen calls were related to assaults, police department data show.
Dozens of other calls were related to trespassing complaints and mental health and welfare checks, and officers also responded to about 18 calls for fights in progress, a dozen theft calls and half a dozen weapons complaints.
Police officers also engaged in self-initiated activities more than 100 times in the last six months at or near Wright Stop Plaza. Some of these officer-initiated activities were related to disorderly subjects, disturbances, suspicious persons and trespassing.
Crime and safety around Wright Stop Plaza was thrust into the spotlight last month when Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority CEO Bob Ruzinsky said students and others have been causing some trouble near the bus hub.
RTA did not cite any specific data about how often teens are involved in police calls, and Dayton school Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli pushed back about how many of the issues involve students.
Thousands of students use Greater Dayton RTA buses to get to school, including Dayton Public School students and students of charter and parochial schools. DPS started classes for the 2022-2023 school year on Aug. 15, a little more than six months ago.
Area called “a hot mess”
RTA’s Ruzinsky said more often than not the calls for service police are receiving and responding to that list Wright Stop Plaza as the location actually are for issues on the street and in the right-of-way, adjacent to the transit center property.
Greater Dayton RTA has security personnel at Wright Stop Plaza, and the agency also has a contract with Dayton Police to monitor and patrol the property during high-traffic times.
The police department has enhanced visibility in this area by using bicycle patrols and officers assigned to fixed posts, said Dayton police Major Hall.
But large crowds of people tend to gather just south of the bus hub, along Jefferson Street, in front of a couple of storefronts — one a former Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers restaurant that closed in 2015 after nearly 25 years downtown.
Ruzinsky recently described the area around the hub as a “hot mess,” and he said high school students are responsible for some of the problems, especially when they meet up with non-students.
Dayton Public Schools is buying thousands of RTA bus passes each month to get DPS, charter and parochial school students to and from school.
Ruzinsky said students do not belong on public buses. Dayton Public Schools officials say they don’t have the capacity (in buses or drivers) to bus all the eligible students in their geography.
“Placing a couple of thousand of students on the public transit system, which is not set up to handle the unique needs of school transportation, of course leads to issues and challenges,” he told this newspaper. “While we have increased police presence, supervision and support staff on our property to help manage to daily afternoon influx of students, we do not control the public right-of-ways and surrounding neighborhood.”
Dayton police have arrested about 75 people near or at Wright Stop Plaza since mid-August, department data show. Officers issued dozens of citations in that area during that same time period.
Downtown crime levels
Local business and city leaders have long said that downtown is very safe, especially compared to other parts of the city.
Downtown safety also was debated last fall after someone fired a gun into the air during a holiday parade, sending people running in all directions and causing a chaotic scene.
Dayton police data show in the last five years there were about about 5,765 reported crimes in the central patrol operations district, which covers downtown, according to police data through late November.
That compares to about 45,750 crimes in the larger east patrol operations district and 52,175 crimes in the larger west patrol operations district, the data show. That means less than 6% of crime in Dayton occurred downtown, which is a smaller, but more densely inhabited area.
Though a fairly small share of Dayton’s residents live downtown, the urban core is an activity center and a regional job center that draws large numbers of visitors and workers many days of the week.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said the vast majority of students who ride public buses do not cause any problems. But she said a small number of young people are engaging in unruly activities.
She said an increased police and security presence at and near the bus hub hopefully will help, but she said a longer-term solution is needed and likely will focus on figuring out the best way to get students to school.
“The safety of our students is a high priority, but also this is an economic center for the city and so people need to feel good and people need to feel safe when they come downtown,” she said.
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