Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties

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  POLICE | Transit Police History

SEPTA began to understand that the perception of crime on the subway system is what deters people from using it. They realized that in order to increase ridership and revenue, the issue of subway security had to be addressed.

The problems in the subway appeared to run in cycles. In the mid-1960s, public outrage was focused on savage beatings and rapes. These incidents resulted in the detailing of a regular patrol of Philadelphia Police K-9 Police Officers in the subway.

For the next few years subway crime received little publicity and low priority. Then, in 1969 - a particularly bad year for the subways - a series of incidents once again inflamed both politicians and the riding public.

A special subway police unit (Philadelphia Police Transit Unit) was quickly pressed into duty to supplement the beleaguered K-9 patrols. SEPTA even spoke bravely of recruiting its own force of transit police. Once again the tidal wave of subway terror crested and began to abate.

SEPTA Strike Force

However, in October 1978 - following more than the usual number of subway complaints, particularly involving attacks on SEPTA personnel and cashiers - a graduating class of police academy rookies was rented en masse from the city of Philadelphia by SEPTA at a cost of approximately $1.2 million per year.

For the next two years, that contingent would serve as the SEPTA Strike Force - never numbering more than 65.

SEPTA knew that these Strike Force Officers could barely make a dent in what the Authority needed system-wide. In fact, earlier that year the original brigade of rookie officers was laid off due to Mayor William Green's budget cuts.

Once all the rookies were laid off or transferred out into the neighborhood districts, crime began to increase once again.

Public hearings were held due to the increase in transit crime. Some suggestions were to: use Guardian Angels; install closed circuit TV; call in the Army National Guard; hire more city cops; and create a professional transit police force.

Most believed the Philadelphia Police Department Transit Unit had some effect, however SEPTA Management under newly-hired General Manager David Gunn was disappointed that SEPTA could not have more influence in the strategic deployment of these officers assigned to the subway system.

SEPTA Management soon realized the potential of having their own uniformed police presence on the system.

The First Transit Police Department Class

The first class of the SEPTA Transit Police Department began training on February 2, 1981 at the Philadelphia Police Academy. On April 24, 1981, these 55 Transit Police Officers successfully completed the 480 hour Police Officer Training Course as prescribed by the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officer Training Education Act 120. Soon they began exclusive foot patrol of the Broad Street Line.

The 55 new SEPTA Transit Police Officers were assigned to supplement the Philadelphia Transit Unit (name has been changed to Concourse Unit). By late 1982 major crimes declined by 20% and all crimes declined by 47%.

Between 1982 and 1987 coordinated efforts by both the Philadelphia Police and SEPTA Transit Police resulted in substantial decline in subway crime. By the end of 1985 major crime declined by 50%.

In 1987 Philadelphia Police began to cut back on staffing in the Transit Unit. In 1989 subway crime increased by 74%. There were 1,463 felony crimes that year compared to 171 in 2006 The President of the Transit Workers Union Local 234 referred to the subway system as "The Wild, Wild West".

In 1990 SEPTA Management made a major commitment to adequately staff the SEPTA Transit Police Department to cover the entire subway/elevated system. The Zone Policing Concept was instituted in order to strategically place SEPTA Transit Police Officers throughout the subway system. By the end of 1991 subway crime was reduced by 43%.

Today Transit Police Officers patrol regionally in the five county service area. The SEPTA Police Transit Police Department is the fifth largest police department in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with over 260 sworn police officers. These police officers are commissioned by the State Governor under the Street Railroad-Railway Act and exercise full police powers in the five county area served by SEPTA, as well as New Jersey and Delaware.