Denver police swept into beleaguered Union Station in the city’s center on Wednesday, and not a moment too soon. Many Denverites would say it’s about time.

Police arrested 42 people who either were engaged in assorted criminal activities — notably drug dealing — or had outstanding warrants for previous criminal charges. The sweep was part of an ongoing effort by authorities to reclaim some of the public spaces in and around the station.

As reported by The Gazette, police had received more than 70 calls for service to Union Station between Nov. 1 and Dec. 4 last year. Many of the calls were for drugs, alcohol, public disorder or assaults. Since the beginning of this year, police have arrested 500 people for numerous crimes at Union Station, according to the police department. 

The landmark transportation hub had become the latest epicenter of the illegal drug trade and all that goes with it — vagrancy, panhandling, harassment, assorted petty crime and disorderly behavior in general. It has been the focus of renewed media attention following complaints from Denverites who had grown sick and tired of having to run a gauntlet of criminal activity just to catch a bus, a train, or lunch and a coffee at the station. Many felt intimidated by the menacing presence of the habitual street hustlers who use the venue to peddle the likes of meth, cocaine and opioids, particularly deadly fentanyl.

That’s all the more troubling considering the station remains as much of a draw for visitors and a gateway to downtown today as it was when the historic structure debuted in 1914. Union Station’s status as a popular destination was enhanced after a renovation and extensive upgrades, completed in 2014. Eateries, shops and a boutique hotel opened to complement the station’s role as a local transportation crossroads. What a shame to see such an elegant public edifice become a destination of another kind — for dealers, addicts and their fellow travelers.

Clearly, when two worlds collide like that, they can’t coexist for long. Union Station is too important to the community and especially to the vitality of LoDo and downtown to let it be overrun by the criminal element — lest law-abiding citizens be run off, instead. Mayor Michael Hancock and Police Chief Paul Pazen understood that and moved in. Good.

Of course, as police point out, the drug trade on the streets of Denver’s inner urban core is a moveable feast for pushers and users. Almost anytime authorities sweep in and shut down a drug bazaar, another one pops up nearby. Last summer, ground zero was practically on City Hall’s doorstep — in Civic Center Park, another revered and historic local landmark. City Hall finally shut down the park for restoration, sweeping out criminals and vagrants.

So, it’s a bit like squeezing a balloon or playing Whac-A-Mole. Those who prey on people’s addictions — or who prey on people in general — will find a place to ply their trade. But that doesn’t mean the citizens of Denver have to put up with it — or cede territory to it.

Kudos to the mayor and chief for this week’s crackdown as well as for ongoing efforts to stem the illegal drug trade wherever it crops up. We encourage authorities to move aggressively, early and often.

Denver Gazette editorial board

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