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February 10, 2023

SEPTA to deploy more police officers on trains in response to safety concerns

The transit authority also is staffing unarmed security officers on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines

Transportation SEPTA
SEPTA Police Crime Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

SEPTA will begin deploying more police officers on its Broad Street and Market-Frankford line trains next week in response to increased violent crime. It also will utilize unarmed security guards dressed in yellow vests.

SEPTA is increasing its police presence on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines following a pair of stabbings – and years of increased violent crime – on the transit system.

Beginning next week, SEPTA will deploy more police officers on its subway trains, in addition to 60 unarmed security officers in yellow vests. The hope is that the increased presence deters people from committing crimes.

SEPTA will make announcements when officers are on board trains so that riders know they have someone they can contact, if necessary. Transit officers also are responsible for patrolling stations.

"We are looking at ways we can use personnel that we have to address issues," SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said.

Earlier this week, a man was stabbed in the neck by another man during a physical altercation inside the Girard Station on the Broad Street Line; he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Last week, a man died after he was stabbed inside a Market-Frankford Line station in Center City. 

Though SEPTA is budgeted for 200 officers, it only has 160 officers on duty, KYW reported. That's about 40 more than last May, when police union leaders complained of a "staffing crisis." 

"One of our biggest issues in recruitment and retention is not just pay," acting Transit Police Chief Charles Lawson told KYW last year. "We are a specialty type of policing, and generally speaking, young officers who want to get into this profession do so because they want to be law enforcers. What they find when they get here is that a large portion of their job responsibility is directed toward really social service type of issues. So a large portion of their day is involving members of the vulnerable community. They are addressing addiction issues, homeless issues, a mental health crisis."

Last June, SEPTA boosted its starting salary for police academy graduates to $62,000 – a $6,000 increase. The transit authority plans to add 22 officers, but not for at least six months, Busch said. 

Violent crime on SEPTA has risen since the COVID-19 pandemic, and ridership remains at about 55% of its pre-pandemic levels.

There were 111 aggravated assaults reported on SEPTA property last year – more than double the 46 reported in 2019. Last year, an Inquirer report found that robberies and aggravated assaults rose by 80% from 2019 through 2021.

The increase in crime also has been observed on the trains. Last November, a teenager fatally shot a 21-year-old man on a Broad Street Line subway. 

The safety concerns from riders are not new. City Council held special hearings on the matter in late 2021 following several violent incidents, including a sexual assault on the Market Frankford Line and an attack on a high school student who was riding the Broad Street Line.

Last summer, Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel III abruptly resigned following mounting criticism stemming from safety concerns and complaints about homelessness and drug use on the transit system. 

SEPTA has introduced a number of strategies to improve safety. In October 2021, the transit authority hired unarmed guards and social outreach workers to help monitor stations and assist vulnerable people on trains. 

Last year, the SEPTA detailed plans to install artificial intelligence software capable of detecting weapons on the transit system. The authority also introduced a new safety plan that aims to assist vulnerable people, including people who are homeless or mentally ill, while also increasing its law enforcement presence. 

They also introduced a new core safety plan called SCOPE. The Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnership, and Engagement plan spotlights efforts to help vulnerable people within its platforms, such as the mentally ill or homeless, while also increasing its law enforcement presence.