“If you commit a crime on SEPTA, you will be caught.” Those were the words of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Chief Thomas Nestel when video surveillance footage of a suspect wanted for a robbery and shooting at the North Philadelphia Broad Street Line (BSL) station was released to local media.
Just days after the crystal-clear image of the man was made public, Shawn Walker was arrested by Philadelphia Police and charged with robbery, aggravated assault and related charges. Walker is also a suspect in an armed robbery at a nearby grocery store.
Shawn Walker, the suspect who was arrested for allegedly shooting a rider at the North Philadelphia Broad Street Line Station.
In September, 15-year old Darryl Lanier was arrested and charged as an adult with attempted murder for allegedly opening fire at a BSL car, injuring two student passengers. The incident video was so perfect that Philadelphia Police was able to take it to local schools for a quick ID. Lanier’s parents turned him in to the authorities.
Perhaps the most dramatic and compelling of these “caught on tape” incidents occurred in June 2011, when two men with assault rifles opened fire on a stopped SEPTA Route 47 bus, summoned to the scene by a passenger who was upset that a fellow rider admonished her for spanking her child. In all, six of the seven defendants pled guilty to charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and related offenses (the seventh was held for trial). The charges and convictions in this case were based on the video from seven cameras on that bus — our “best witness.”
The agency has 10 to 12 cameras on each the 343 cars on the BSL and Market-Frankford Line (MFL) and 12 to 48 cameras at BSL, MFL and downtown Philadelphia Regional Rail stations. By early 2013, SEPTA’s entire bus fleet of almost 1,400 will be camera-equipped. The 120 new Silverliner V Regional Rail train cars all have the technology to use cameras. Nestel also has images of wanted individuals sent to SEPTA officers’ smartphones, allowing them to easily search for suspects while on the beat. The video produced by the vehicle and station cameras has proven highly valuable to SEPTA and Philadelphia Police in their efforts to apprehend criminals and to educate the public on how to be aware of their surroundings and protect their valuables from theft.
During the same week that SEPTA surveillance footage was used to capture the alleged actor of a violent crime, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that eight people were charged with insurance fraud, criminal conspiracy and other related charges for filing false injury claims against SEPTA regarding a 2009 bus accident. In that incident, the left mirror of a stopped SEPTA bus was clipped by the right mirror of a passing armored car. The armored car had no damage; the bus received only a scratch.
Yet earlier this year, SEPTA received claims from eight individuals, all represented by the same attorney and all stating that they were injured in the accident. In total, the complainants were seeking about $80,000 for their medical bills. They might have been paid for their “suffering” had SEPTA’s bus cameras not shown that two of the individuals on the bus were not as injured as they had filed and six of the claimants were not on board the bus at the time of the accident.
Ronald Moore, running to the scene of a 2008 bus accident.
In October 2011, SEPTA and the Philadelphia DA's Office launched a campaign to stop fraudulent injury claims by highlighting the growing role surveillance video is playing in exposing defrauders. In public service announcements, actual bus video features riders acting out injuries after SEPTA buses are lightly tapped by other vehicles — impacts so minor, most passengers aren't aware an accident has occurred until they see the bus operator begin post-collision procedures. And, some claimants aren't even passengers.
Moore later went inside the bus and acted as if he was injured in the same accident he ran from. He received two years' probation and was fined $1,000 for his fraudulent claim.
In fiscal year 2011, there were 5,219 claims filed against SEPTA; in FY2012 that number dropped to 4,656. The claim payout for both years was about $40 million. If FY2013 continues at its first quarter rate, claims will drop again this year.
Without the videos, these fraudulent claims may have cost transit riders and taxpayers thousands of dollars in injury payouts. Now the payday been denied, and, with the assistance of the DA's Office, these individuals are being held criminally responsible for their actions.
The recent criminal and fraud cases illustrate how important video has become in a new era of crime fighting. Cameras are the extra eyes need to capture criminals and protect passengers and deter crime. The pictures truly are worth a thousand words.
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Read our METRO blog, "'APTA business members rise through the ranks" here.
While PTC may have just recently entered the consciousness of the public at-large, it has been an issue for freight and commuter rail systems since Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) (P.L. 110-432) in 2008 following the collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles. Since that time, rail organizations have been working toward meeting the federally-mandated PTC implementation deadline of December 31, 2015. With less than six months to go, several commuter rail systems have said that, not only will they not meet the deadline, they will need several more years before having full PTC implementation on their trains.
Disruptive technologies and the new era of information sharing are helping to evolve and advance public transportation in our nation’s greatest cities. Nearly 300 mayors and government officials convened in San Francisco June 19-22 for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 83rd Annual Meeting, featuring remarks from President Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I was invited to speak in front of these influential government leaders to discuss “Technology and the Transformation of Urban Transportation.” This article will give readers an inside look at the conversation.
In times of disaster or tragedy, public transit agencies are frequently called upon to assist their communities and other transportation organizations. In case of fire, evacuation or accident, buses may be used to shelter or transport the displaced or injured, or serve as a respite site for first responders.
As a city, Leipzig is an excellent example of the German principals of transport planning and service as well as eastern Germany’s long history. The city has benefitted from large amounts of investment in infrastructure over the years since German reunification and most transport systems seem to be new or rebuilt, expanded and in a very good current state of repair. The most notable element in the transport mix is inevitably the enormous and historic main railway station, which is one of the largest, but certainly not busiest, in Europe.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Regional (commuter) Rail system was inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads and the infrastructure in many sections of the system has been serving the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. Fifteen years ago, overhead catenary system (OCS) failures were a common occurrence on SEPTA Regional Rail, a result of fatigue cracks and wear. The all too common OCS failures were frustrating for SEPTA customers who occasionally found it difficult to depend on train service for their travels and for SEPTA, whose crews were constantly working to repair and maintain the system.