SEPTA debuts new mobile app allowing riders to text tips to transit police

SEPTA introduced a new app this morning to advance its “see something, say something” safety campaign.

The SEPTA Transit Watch app will allows riders to “to discretely report safety and security issues to septa police,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel.

The app essentially allows passengers to text tips to the cops, instead of calling in reports, which could draw unwanted attention to the concerned rider. The app also allows users to send SEPTA police photos or video of the incident in question.

“We count on our customers to help be the eyes and ears of the system,” said Knueppel. “The SEPTA transit watch app now gives them a valuable tool to communicate directly with police dispatchers.”  

SEPTA is spending $254,000 over three years on the app developed by ELERTS Corp., which has developed similar programs for Boston’s MBTA, Atlanta’s MARTA and Toronto’s TTC. Knueppel said those transit authorities saw a sizable increase in reported incidents after offering their apps.

The app comes with a number of preset report options: “Assault or Fighting,” “Disruptive Behavior,” “Lewd Behavior,” and so on.  

SEPTA touted the app’s ability to improve communications with deaf riders, who faced difficulty phoning in reports in the past. Now these riders can easily send text, photos and video of their concerns.

It also includes preset location options and Users can allow the the app to track their location through GPS.

SEPTA Transit Police Sergeant Michael Wright said the reports would be used for preliminary investigations only — aiding police in identifying a suspect and making an arrest. Users won’t be asked to testify in court, he said.

However, if SEPTA officers rely on tips sent through the app to make arrests, it’s likely that the reports generated by the app could become the subject of evidence hearings. Even if prosecutors agree to never call a tipper to the stand, defense attorneys may end up doing so.

In the next year, SEPTA has plans to release an new, comprehensive transit app that will provide real, up-to-the-minute updates on estimated time of arrival and other system information. When that app is ready, SEPTA says the transit watch app features will be incorporated into it.

Riders who don’t have a smartphone can still quietly report issues using SEPTA’s “Text a Tip” hotline by texting 215-234-1911.

While the app can be used to send quick reports for most incidents, Sergeant Wright recommended that riders continue to call 911 in the case of more pressing emergencies.  

The SEPTA transit watch app is available for free download onto Apple and Android devices now.

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