PHILADELPHIA - The new leader of SEPTA's police force is ready to tackle the tall task of improving safety and restoring confidence in the nation's sixth-largest public transportation system.
Chief Chuck Lawson, who spent 30 years as a transit officer, said reducing gun violence on SEPTA property is "undoubtedly" the biggest challenge he's facing.
"My biggest challenge undoubtedly right now is gun violence we’re seeing on the system that we’ve never experienced in previous years," Chief Lawson said.
This week alone, a 19-year-old man was shot on the 15th and Market street platform. It was the second time in seven months the victim was shot on the same platform.
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Robberies on SEPTA property are up 90% compared to the first quarter of last year, according to authorities.
Along with crime, Chief Lawson said homelessness, the opioid epidemic and mental health crises are causing riders to stay away.
"Our approach is strong level of enforcement for low level crime," Chief Lawson said. "It’s an approach that’s worked phenomenal over the year to keep serious crime down. So we enforce heavily."
So far under Chief Lawson's watch, SEPTA has banned ski masks - known by some as ‘shiesties’ - from platforms and other SEPTA property. New Artificial Intelligence software used by SEPTA can identify firearms with thousands of cameras.
"There is always room to make the system safer," Chief Lawson said. "We’re getting creative to new approaches to safety we’re utilizing non law enforcement approaches."
Lawson is hoping to get riders involve as well. With SEPTA's crime reporting app he says the 600,000 riders a day can help be the eyes and ears for police.
"The Market Frankford Line looks much better than it did a couple months ago, so we are getting there," Chief Lawson said. "We have some work to do, but we’re getting there."