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

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Policing Regional Mass Transit

by Deputy Chief of Police David Scott
Reproduced from FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin - July 2009

Protecting critical infrastructure, particularly mass transit, in the United States has become even more essential since September 11, 2001. Most systems are located in heavily populated areas and support a crucial foundation to the economic viability of their regions. Today, about 6,500 public transportation providers operate in the United States and Canada, with the majority offering more than one mode of service. Approximately 1,500 agencies provide bus service, 80 offer rail, 5,960 furnish paratransit, and 150 operate other modes.(1) The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Transit Police Department protects one of only two multimodal networks in the United States consisting of buses, subway lines, high-speed and regional rail, trackless trolley, and paratransit vehicles. SEPTA's entire service area extends 2,200 square miles throughout parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. It is the fifth largest police agency in Pennsylvania.

Because terrorists and common street criminals frequently target mass transportation, it is critical that all transit administrators establish working relationships with local, state, and federal public safety agencies, as well as communities in their service areas. Departments within transit agencies (e.g., system safety, risk management, training, public and government affairs, information technology, control centers, and rail and surface operations) also should work together to create a safe, secure environment for citizens, employees, and public safety officials.

Terrorism Risks

Approximately one-third of terrorist attacks worldwide target transportation systems, with public transit the most frequent.(2) Analysis of more than 22,000 terrorist incidents from 1968 through 2004 indicated that assaults on land-based transportation targets, including mass transit, have the highest casualty rates of any type. On average, these offenses caused more than two and one-half times the casualties per incident as those involving aviation targets.

A recent study of terrorist attacks on rail found that bombings accounted for 80 percent, followed by sabotage (6 percent) and armed attack (6 percent).(3) Explosives were the weapons used in 77 percent of such incidents, and 8 percent involved hoaxes or threats. The study cautioned that security measures must address the threat of explosive devices, and, while attacks from chemical and radiological weapons are unlikely, they warrant attention as well because of their potentially serious results.

Although major terrorist attacks like those on transit systems in other parts of the world have not occurred in the United States, chances prove exceedingly high. Heavily populated systems that operate on predictable schedules, with passengers having little or no chance to escape crowded stations, buses, trains, and other conveyances, make public transportation susceptible to acts of terrorism. Moreover, many systems are expanding and ridership has generally increased, raising more policing concerns. Vehicular gridlock, air pollution, expensive parking fees, and higher gasoline prices have made mass transit an attractive option for urban dwellers in the Philadelphia area. Numerous individuals have chosen to leave their vehicles at home and, subsequently, have logged millions of more daily rides on SEPTA city transit and regional rail.(4) Moreover, Americans used public transportation for 10.3 billion trips in 2007, the most in 50 years and a 2.1 percent increase over 2006.(5)


Terrorists and criminals continue to think of new schemes and attempt to adjust their tactics to thwart law enforcement officials who, in turn, must remain relentless when developing and integrating strategies to safeguard the public. To successfully address the potential of terrorism and crime on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's, regional transit system, the SEPTA Transit Police Department uses a combination of established, innovative strategies and programs. It implemented intelligence-led (ILP), community, and problem-oriented policing; local, state, and federal initiatives; new technologies; zone policing (decentralization); truancy intervention; Compstat; quality-of-life (minor crimes) enforcement; and passenger surveys. Following the events of September 11 and all subsequent U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directives for security awareness and emergency preparedness, officials from the SEPTA Transit Police Department and other transit personnel have worked closely with the region's emergency management organizations to ensure the appropriate inclusion of SEPTA.(6)

Using ILP to address terrorism and crime on mass transit can facilitate an effective coordinated regional response. Law enforcement authorities, including transit police, gather and disseminate data through proper channels and produce an intelligence end product to enhance decision making at both the tactical and strategic levels.(7) The SEPTA Transit Police Department recently implemented an ILP program and hosted a 4-day, intelligence-training course funded by a grant from the Philadelphia Area Regional Transit Security Working Group-Joint Regional Information Exchange System (PARTSWG-JRIES).(8) Nontransit agencies also attended this free training that addressed transportation attacks, identity theft as a foundation for terrorism, intelligence law matrix development and analysis, and link development and analysis. Members of PARTSWG-JRIES and other external law enforcement agencies use virtual-workspace computer software to share information. Additionally, the SEPTA transit police disseminates an intelligence bulletin to local law enforcement departments that highlights mass transit incidents throughout the region.

TA Security and Emergency Management Action Items

The tragic events of September 11 ushered in a new era for security and emergency preparedness in the United States. As a result, federal, state, and local governments and transit agencies continue to assess their capabilities to manage the risk environment. The following list addresses current security risks that confront transit agencies.

Management and accountability

establish written system security programs and emergency management plans

define roles and responsibilities for security and emergency management

hold operations and maintenance supervisors, forepersons, and managers accountable for security issues under their control

coordinate security and emergency management plans with local and regional agencies

Security and emergency response training

establish and maintain a security and emergency training program

Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS)

establish plans and protocols to respond to the HSAS threat levels

Public awareness - implement and reinforce a public security and emergency awareness program

Drills and exercises - conduct tabletop and functional drills

Risk management and information sharing

establish and use a risk-management process to assess and manage threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences (risk management includes mitigation measures selected after risk assessment has been completed)

participate in an information-sharing process for threat and intelligence information

establish and use a reporting process for suspicious activity (internal and external)

Facility security and access controls

control access to security critical facilities with ID badges for all visitors, employees, and contractors

perform physical security inspections

Background investigations - conduct background investigations of employees and contractors

Document control

control access to documents of security critical systems and facilities

process handling and access to sensitive security information

Security audits - audit program


The SEPTA Transit Police Department participates in a number of initiatives with external agencies. SEPTA officers are helping develop the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC), a proposed regional fusion center for the Philadelphia area.(9) This "collaborative effort of two or more agencies provides resources, expertise, and information to the center with the goal of maximizing their ability to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity."(10) Officers, agents, and intelligence analysts collect intelligence, analyze criminal trends and terrorist threats, and disseminate information.(11) The DVIC creates an immense opportunity for transit police to exchange intelligence with their peers on local, state, and federal levels. To further facilitate the collection of such vital information, the SEPTA Transit Police Department also assigns personnel to various federal and state task forces.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires states to oversee the safety and security of their mass transit agencies, and, in Pennsylvania, the Department of Transportation (PennDot) governs those with rail modes. Accordingly, SEPTA established and implemented an oversight program to ensure maximum safety and security of its passengers, employees, and the public and to protect SEPTA property from loss or damage.(12) The FTA also mandated that U.S. public transportation agencies develop a system security and emergency preparedness plan (SSEPP). The SSEPP calls for the creation of a committee to address security issues on the system. To that end, SEPTA established the Joint Emergency Management Committee (JEMC) that consists of representatives from various internal (e.g., transit police, rail and bus operations, training, and maintenance) and external departments to facilitate communication among organizations that respond to transit emergencies. This creates another opportunity for federal, state, and local officials to become more familiar with SEPTA's system, conveyances, and infrastructure, as well as safety initiatives and emergency operations plans.

Recognizing the needs of such special jurisdictions as transit systems to identify and prepare for potential terrorism risks, DHS undertook extensive efforts to help agencies develop and execute preparedness solutions.(13) With direct support from DHS, SEPTA conducted a needs assessment to identify possible enhancements in security countermeasures and response capabilities and to develop a prioritization strategy for their implementation.

The SEPTA Transit Police Department also works closely with the DHS' Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Through the Baseline Assessment and Security Enhancement (BASE) Program, TSA inspectors assess a transit system's security and emergency preparedness action items (Figure 1), particularly emphasizing several core fundamentals.(14)

TSA Canine Team

TSA also trains and certifies explosives detection canine teams to provide a mobile flexible deterrence and detection capability to passenger transit systems. Since late 2005, TSA has deployed these teams using a risk-based application of resources,(15) which enabled the SEPTA Transit Police Department to augment their existing canine unit by partnering TSA canines with SEPTA officers. Further, TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams(16) and TSA rail inspectors provide visibility on the Philadelphia transit system during heightened times of alert.(17)


It is critical that all transit personnel receive training in emergency management procedures, the incident command system (ICS), and the National Information Management System (NIMS). Capabilities for SEPTA's response to major crimes, accidents, terrorism, and natural disasters are organized according to the ICS specified in the system's SSEPP and emergency operations plan. This plan enables SEPTA to integrate with NIMS or the ICS established by public safety and emergency management agencies and to comply with regional protocols.

All SEPTA police officers must complete annual recertification training by Pennsylvania's Municipal Police Officers Education Training Commission. During that time, the SEPTA Police Training Unit provides additional instructions, and officers meet the command staff to discuss issues that concern them. The National Transportation Institute (NTI) and the FTA provide aids to facilitate in-service training and annual recertification for many transit employees. In addition, many transit police supervisors and officers attend DHS training or complete courses through the FBI National Academy and other programs.(18)


The SEPTA Transit Police Department uses a radio interoperability system (RIOS) with voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) to connect dissimilar communications systems (e.g., radio, landline and satellite telephones, computers) into "talk groups." Because SEPTA's service area encompasses nearly every county in the region, it was important for transit police to lead the efforts in facilitating interoperability with as many public safety departments as possible. Currently, over 250 agencies have access to SEPTA's RIOS system, which they can use during pursuits or a major incident when multiple jurisdictions respond to more than one scene. To enable outside agencies responding to transit emergencies to communicate underground by radio in the immediate area, the SEPTA Transit Police Department developed a portable underground radio repeater system (PURRS) that also can interface with RIOS, creating more interoperability. Further, transit police officers must be able to link computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems with other agencies to coordinate emergency response throughout their regions. Therefore, SEPTA purchased a CAD that can interface directly with the Philadelphia Police Department and local university police agencies.

Smart Stations, an $89 million project on the subway line, will interface closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, intrusion detection systems, and other security and life safety (e.g., fire suppression) procedures over a new fiber-optic network. Many trains and buses also will have new CCTV cameras and global positioning systems. SEPTA is testing several new technologies at various locations to determine their appropriateness in a mass transit environment, and transit police officials provide input regarding acquisition of new security methods.


Since the SEPTA Transit Police Department decentralized in 1990, commanders, supervisors, and officers have been assigned to specific geographic zones. Personnel are empowered to make decisions from the bottom up and develop strategies that address unique problems in their patrol areas. Various sections of the city and subway and regional rail lines are divided into eight distinct zones, consisting of mass transit stations and installations. Each zone has a headquarters location where officers report both on and off duty. This approach enables them to become familiar with the territory, passengers, and criminals in their zones, making it easier to gather criminal intelligence or report suspicious information relating to terrorism.

Crime Prevention

SEPTA has taken several steps to address crime reduction on its mass transit system. As early as 1981, SEPTA developed a nationally recognized quality-of-life enforcement program, including an antigraffiti program to increase ridership by providing a clean, safe system. Even today, the Philadelphia region's transit system remains relatively free of graffiti.

In 1987, SEPTA transit officers began issuing nontraffic summary citations and code violation tickets to those who commit such minor crimes as graffiti, fare evasion, smoking, littering, and disorderly conduct. This practice has helped maintain a low level of felonies on the system for almost 20 years. Issuing tickets no longer requires that officers spend valuable patrol time in districts processing violators; most are released at the scene within minutes. And, offenders often express surprise when plainclothes officers approach them on the system for minor crimes.

Some adults and juveniles arrested for minor offenses on the transit system have their cases adjudicated in Philadelphia Community Court, an innovative, problem-solving judiciary that combines criminal justice and social service agencies for a comprehensive response to quality-of-life crimes. Community service sentences and behavioral treatment programs, rather than incarceration, are emphasized for low-level offenses and help decrease recidivism by addressing defendants' underlying social or medical service needs. Consequences focus on restitution to the community by requiring that offenders perform services in the neighborhoods where they committed the crimes.(19)

Emergency Assistance Kiosk

A community youth coalition established a unique program with the court and the SEPTA Transit Police Department.(20) Juveniles charged with minor offenses on the transit system serve up to 30 hours community service by helping develop a community newsletter. This approach gives these young offenders an opportunity to enhance their writing skills and learn aspects of journalism.

Often, truant children commit crimes or become victims of one. To lower the juvenile crime rate on the Philadelphia transit system, SEPTA participates in the Truancy Intervention Program. Students apprehended on the system or in the surrounding communities are taken to a SEPTA bus at the nearest subway station and transported to a truancy center (a designated school). At least 39,000 truants have been picked up since the program's inception in 1998.

The SEPTA Transit Police Department and other local agencies also are part of a unique strategy that facilitates communication between juveniles and officers. In 1990, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency established the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Subcommittee to assess the overrepresentation of minority youth in the state's juvenile justice system. The DMC also seeks to develop and imple-ment strategies to reduce the disproportionately high contact of minority youth with the state's juvenile justice system. With the support of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, youth and law enforcement meet to have open, honest discussions about the differences in the perspectives, personalities, attitudes, and cultures of each group and to address respect and profiling issues.(21) The subcommittee plans to develop a police academy curriculum that will facilitate this process.

When not patrolling, officers in SEPTA's Community Affairs Unit offer presentations for schools, churches, and other civic organizations. They also host such annual events as National Night Out at transit stations or seasonal festivals at a homeless shelter.


Transit police agencies can successfully use the Compstat process to facilitate policing their unique environments.22 Statistics and computerized crime maps of the transit system and surrounding neighborhoods can provide a snapshot of crime patterns. The SEPTA Transit Police Department conducts Compstat meetings and follows several basic principles: communication of accurate, timely intelligence; coordination of focused rapid deployment; implementation of effective tactics; and relentless follow up. SEPTA representatives also attend Philadelphia's Phillystat meetings, which facilitate coordination and communication among public safety and other agencies.


Ensuring the security of this country's critical infrastructure has become even more of a priority since September 11, 2001. To that end, public transportation systems must continuously develop and implement programs to protect passengers, employees, and property from those individuals who wish to do harm. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Transit Police Department's strategies to address both crime and terrorism have improved not only the safety of riders but of the general public in the city of Philadelphia and surrounding counties as well. Cooperation and collaboration among federal, local, and state organizations facilitate information sharing and ensure that safety initiatives and emergency operation plans provide the best possible response capabilities.


1. American Public Transportation Association, "Public Transportation Fact Book," 58th edition, May 2007, viii.

2. Information in this paragraph is derived from the Congressional Research Service, "Transit Security," Memo to Homeland Security Committee Democratic Staff, August 28, 2003.

3. Information in this paragraph is derived from "RAND Study Provides Framework for Passenger-Rail Systems to Cost-Effectively Protect Riders from Terrorist Attacks";

4. Dan Geringer, "SEPTA's $1.1 B Budget Adds Service to Accommodate Soaring Ridership"

5. SEPTA System Security and Emergency Preparedness Plan, 85 and 86.

6. J. Ratcliffe, "Intelligence-Led Policing"

7. The SEPTA Transit Police Department and other transit agencies in the region belong to this group, which was created to develop and implement a regional transit security strategy.

8. Bart Johnson, "A Look at Fusion Centers: Working Together to Protect America," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, December 2007, 28-32.

9. U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, in collaboration with DOJ's Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Fusion Center Guidelines: Law Enforcement Intelligence, Public Safety, and the Private Sector"

10. Johnson.

11. SEPTA System Security and Emergency Preparedness Plan.

12. SEPTA System Security and Emergency Preparedness Plan. In 2003, several grant programs and functions from other DHS components were consolidated with the Office of Domestic Preparedness under a new DHS agency, the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (SLGCP). In 2005, SLGCP was incorporated under the Preparedness Directorate as the Office of Grants and Training (G&T).

13. Transportation Security Administration, "Advancing the Security Baseline, Mass Transit"

14. "Oversight Hearing on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-Examining TSA's Efforts and Progress on H.R. 1, 'Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,' Testimony of Kip Hawley, Assistant Secretary, TSA, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation"


16. Law enforcement administrators should be aware that such special programs may require dedicated funding, personnel, time, and resources. Federal representatives must have a clear understanding of the impact their recommendations and mandates have on transit police and emergency management operations. Police administrators also must know how to integrate portions of federal programs with their strategies to devise a unique formula that addresses both crime and terrorism in their mass transit environments.

17. The FBI hosts four 10-week sessions each year during which law enforcement executives from around the world come together to attend classes in various criminal justice subjects.

18. The Philadelphia Courts First Judicial District, Philadelphia Community Court


20. Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency

21. For additional information on Compstat, see Jon M. Shane, "Compstat Process," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 2004, 12-21; "Compstat Design," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2004, 12-19; and "Compstat Implementation," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 2004, 13-21.

David Scott, Deputy Chief of Police