As crime levels spike, SEPTA police shift into overtime gear

The El is pictured at Huntingdon Septa station

Huntingdon SEPTA station in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA police officers will work overtime this holiday season in an effort to stem a spike in crime on transit and in stations. 

SEPTA police chief Thomas Nestel said officers will work 10-hour days instead of the usual eight hour shifts from Dec. 9 until the end of the month. Officers will receive overtime pay for the extra hours.

The holiday season is typically a time when SEPTA sees an increase in traffic and crime, but with crime rates already on the rise this year, Nestel said the agency was taking a proactive approach to managing public safety. 

“I’m concerned that that spike may be maybe more than it would be in the past years so we want to try to do something to prevent that from occurring,” he said. 

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Several high-profile crimes have recently raised concerns about safety on the system, the state’s largest transit network. In October, a rape on a Market-Frankford line train made national headlines. That incident was followed by a brutal attack on students of Asian descent on a Broad Street line train in November. Earlier this month, a man shot at officers near the 69th Street Station. All of that came after a difficult 2020 during which ridership plummeted during the pandemic and workers experienced heightened dangers in stations emptied of commuters. 

The latest crime stats supplied by the transit agency show an uptick in aggravated assaults and other crimes.  As of the end of November, SEPTA police had recorded 85, compared to 68 for all last year and only 46 aggravated assaults in all of 2019. Robberies are also up with 210 already reported, the same number seen in all of 2020, and up from 118 in 2019. 

Contributing to the problem and the need for overtime is a shortage of officers, Nestel said.

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The SEPTA police chief said the force is 30 short of its budgeted complement of 260 officers and are having a hard time recruiting people. Only 42 out of 865 applicants showed up for a hiring event in October. Only 12 of those 42 were eligible to continue in the hiring process, he said.

It takes about a year from recruiting officers to evaluation and a 22-week police academy training program before recruits can be sworn officers, and Nestel believes people who want to become officers are waning.

“The police have developed a reputation that is not positive and there has been considerable backlash in the past year or two and that has caused officers to leave either the profession or metropolitan areas and to not have people apply to become a part of an honorable profession,” Nestel said.

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