It took three attacks and a funeral to increase security on Philadelphia’s sole public transportation system.
The subway attacks of March 26, April 2 and April 4 occurred within blocks of each other – some in broad daylight – and have highlighted the need for increased security on SEPTA’s tracks.
“We’re taking special note of what’s going on,” Mayor Michael Nutter told 6 ABC recently.
Nutter and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey have both promised SEPTA users more safety in the wake of the attacks.
SEPTA has also responded. Immediately following the attacks, the transit agency increased the number of officers on duty by 50 percent during after school hours – the time associated with the recent attacks. Between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., 90 officers will now police the city’s subway system to deter crime. SEPTA also plans on installing security cameras over the next few years, an investment of more than $50 million.
“These senseless and tragic incidents are unrelated events that occurred in the public pedestrian areas adjacent to our stations. I want to assure you that our transit system is safe,” Joseph M. Casey, general manager of SEPTA, wrote in a message to users on the agency’s Web site.
Immediate action by Nutter, Ramsey and SEPTA is undoubtedly a good thing. To have the mayor, police department and the city’s only mass transportation agency working together – and doing so efficiently – speaks volumes to the progress Nutter is making in Philadelphia.
Of course, there are already some flaws in the system. Had there already been enough officers patrolling the subway – as opposed to the 60 who were patrolling prior to the attacks – fewer, if any, of the attacks would have occurred. The assault that led to the death of Starbucks manager Sean Patrick Conroy took place in the middle of the afternoon near one of the system’s most used stations. Our subways need to be better patrolled if riders are going to feel safe.
Video surveillance is part of that patrol. SEPTA’s plan to install new cameras has a 2012 deadline. Though the three incidents have encouraged the authority to try to push up the deadline, there is still no logical explanation for why there aren’t cameras already.
Community members are also taking action, as The Temple News reported [“Police react to SEPTA violence,” Morgan A. Zalot, April 8, 2008]. The Alliance of Guardian Angels is a group of civilians who have patrolled the subway in the past, and are now making a comeback. Though not exclusive to Philadelphia, the Guardian Angels have worked for years to enhance the safety of the Philadelphia community, doing so without weapons.
In yet another mistake by another police commissioner, it was announced last week that the Guardian Angels will not receive free subway passes for their efforts. Ramsey passed the buck off to SEPTA officials, who maintain that only employees and uniformed police officers and firefighters can hold free passes. This news came just after the Philadelphia Police announced support for the Angels.
City Hall, the Philadelphia Police and SEPTA were wise enough to respond to the attacks quickly and in sync, but they should have been working together, along with the community, to combat crime all along.
Shannon McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.