Riders are on edge due to the recent string of random subway concourse attacks, but many Temple students who rely on SEPTA for transportation remain unfazed.
“I’m not any more nervous than I was before,” said Eric Weis, 36, a junior history major. “Philadelphia is a dangerous city sometimes, so you just have to be careful.”
Weis said he doesn’t try to avoid the subway at all in light of the attacks.
“I think it’s better than walking through the streets sometimes,” he said.
A woman was attacked near Market East Station just one week following the March 26 death of Sean Conroy after he was beaten at the 13th Street Station by a group of students from Simon Gratz High School.
Late Friday night, a third victim, a 30-year-old man, was assaulted then robbed by three suspects on the Market-Frankford Line between the 13th Street and 15th Street stops.
On Feb. 20, SEPTA police shot a man who pulled a gun on them at the Broad and Allegheny stop of the Broad Street Line, the stop many students use for the Health Sciences Center.
“Despite the recent assaults near the SEPTA system, between 1989 and 2007, SEPTA experienced an 87 percent reduction in felony-related crimes by implementing a variety of measures to insure the safety of our riders and facilities,” SEPTA press officer Gary Fairfax wrote in an e-mail.
“SEPTA has also begun a program called Smart Stations where enhanced communications/CCTV are among the chief design features. Cecil B. Moore Station is a pilot location for this program,” he wrote.
“[In] my experience, historically here with Temple University students, incidents on the subway have been few and far between,” said Carl Bittenbender, executive director of Campus Safety Services.
He said that SEPTA police are very responsive to Temple’s needs by keeping the lines of communication open and sending additional officers when Campus Police find it necessary.
“This past weekend, we had the concert at the Liacouras Center,” Bittenbender said. “SEPTA provided additional officers near the Broad and Cecil B. Moore entrance on the platforms as well as at the surface.”
Bittenbender said that Temple students aren’t any more likely than the rest of the population to be attacked, but that they still need to exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
“A lot of crime is random. It’s opportunity, it’s different things,” he said. “This really is just senseless, and I don’t know the circumstances, but I know in both instances the police were very close by.”
Fairfax said that SEPTA often assigns extra police during school dismissal hours and in high-crime areas.
In addition to extra police presence, the civilian patrol organization, Alliance of Guardian Angels, also recently began to patrol the subway system.
“We’ve had sporadic patrols there before all of this, but now obviously the light is shining on this mess and as Guardian Angels we must respond,” said senior director Arnaldo Salinas.
Though deploying volunteers to patrol the subway is not cost-effective for the Guardian Angels, “we’re now committed to clearing up the mess that is in the system, … these wolf packs, if you will, that are diminishing quality of life in the system,” Salinas said.
The Guardian Angels carry no weapons, but Salinas said they are well-known and highly visible with their red berets, combat boots and reputation for being forceful, yet fair.
“No one is stupid enough to commit a crime in front of us,” he said.
Some students said that though they are not too nervous riding SEPTA as it is, the Guardian Angels can only help the situation.
“I feel like stuff like that can happen anywhere, really, so just after living in the city for a while, I don’t think I’d be more scared on the subway,” said senior sociology major Rosie Ferris. “But I’m sure [the Guardian Angels] probably make it safer.”
“I have definitely seen more security around, so that probably adds to the comfort level,” said second-year law student Adam Schlosser, who commutes daily to Temple from Center City.
Schlosser said he thinks that if everyone is aware that the Guardian Angels are out there, some crime will be deterred.
Bittenbender said that despite the recent incidents, he is still confident that SEPTA is a safe way for students to travel.
“Our students have had excellent experiences on the subway in my history here,” he said. “It’s not incident-free, of course, but I think the SEPTA police do a fine job of patrolling.”
Morgan A. Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.