PHILADELPHIA - SEPTA safety took center stage at Tuesday's budget meeting with Philadelphia City Council, as officials try to rebuild the public's confidence in the sixth-largest transit system in the country.
The meeting comes a week after SEPTA officials arrested a man for allegedly raping a woman on a SEPTA train. It's the latest in a series of violent horror stories that have unfolded on SEPTA property that General Manager Leslie Richards admitted is impacting ridership.
At the same time, Richards said that violent crime on SEPTA property is down compared to the first quarter of 2021. So far this year there have been 240 crimes on SEPTA propety, down from 301 between January and April of 2021.
Still, SEPTA isn't resting its laurels on the improved hard data on crime. Richards said they are working on staffing eight new positions for a virtual patrol center to watch the 30,000 SEPTA cameras. They will also hire nearly 90 people for a new outreach initiative to serve as extra eyes and ears.
In a letter sent to Philadelphia City Council ahead of Tuesday's hearing, the Fraternal Order of Transit Police said transit officers are leaving for jobs that pay between $10k-$15k more annually.
SEPTA Transit Police believe this is why their budget for 260 officers remains about 50 officers short.
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"You’ve increased people to report crimes, you’ve increased people to address the vulnerable population, but you haven’t increased the police personnel to address these issues," Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Tony Parham said.
Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh said he plans to introduce a budget amendment to withhold SEPTA's $10M budget until they commit to raising officer's salaries. Richards said they are meeting with the Fraternal Order of Transit Police this week.
"If they don’t feel confident that there is not a police officer ready to engage, ready to risk his or her life to save theirs, they don’t want to ride the subway system and they don’t want their children on it," Oh said.