SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel at the 69th Street Transportation Center discussing SEPTA's human trafficking initiatives.
The 2014 Super Bowl brought more than the big game to the New York City/ North Jersey metropolitan area: the event created an increased awareness of the crime of human trafficking.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, sex trafficking generates $32 billion a year. And, major sporting and entertainment events can mean more opportunities for these crimes.
Transit can certainly play a role in helping to stop human trafficking, considering the number of people who use buses, trains and trolleys or access depots and stations 24 hours a day.
In Philadelphia, just before Super Bowl Sunday, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Chief Thomas Nestel was joined by representatives from local social service agencies and a former human trafficking victim to discuss signs of the crime, law enforcement efforts and how the public can help.
RELATED: "Human trafficking the focus of L.A. Metro program"
SEPTA's police department has altered its approach when dealing with prostitution.
"In the past, we focused on the person who was providing the service, not the person who controls the prostitute,” said Nestel. “The laws have changed over the past four to five years, allowing us to pursue those who are holding people against their will and forcing them to commit sex crimes."
SEPTA police officers have received specialized training from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office on how to prepare a trafficking case for prosecution.
"Our officers are asking questions beyond the arrest, to try to find out if the prostitute is being forced to work the streets and who is controlling her life," Nestel added. "We also have contact with social service organizations and can provide avenues of escape for trafficking victims."
The SEPTA Police Department works closely with the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition (PATC), a group whose 62 members represent law enforcement, social service and government agencies across the Philadelphia region. PATC provides training for people most likely to encounter or provide service to trafficking victims, including police officers and medical professionals, as well as support for victims, such as access to legal aid, advocacy and shelter.
Helping SEPTA’s — and Pennsylvania’s — crime fighting efforts is the passage of Pennsylvania Act 197. Under this law, establishments such as airports, train and bus stations, welcome centers and rest areas, massage parlors, spas, hotels and motels are required to post signage with the national trafficking hotline phone number (1-877-373-7888).
RELATED: "Minneapolis Metro campaign to help combat sex trafficking"
"We are asking the public and our employees to keep an eye out for pimps who appear to be preying on vulnerable young women at our transportation hubs or in the neighborhoods around our stations," said Nestel. “We are looking for runaways, for vulnerable young woman who might be hanging out at transit stations, seemingly out of place. Posting the hotline number, in addition to the training our officers have received should make a difference in getting victims the assistance they need and stopping these heinous crimes.”
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "Bus Wi-Fi system considerations for transit agencies."
There is an epidemic of safety accidents, absenteeism and high turnover among transit’s front line employees and it’s bleeding the transportation industry billions of dollars. But the inoculation may be closer than you think. Employee engagement is the best immunization for what’s ailing the industry.
Video surveillance technology is a vital component to transit and rail operations as agencies recognize the value such solutions offer. A comprehensive system does more than deliver high quality video and audio recordings. Supporting data and software tools increase the efficiency of agencies’ video management operations, substantiate liability claims and investigations, and promote safety for both passengers and operators alike.
In case you missed it, Pope Francis visited America — and was followed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during his stops in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. It’s fitting, given Pope Francis’ penchant for public transportation, that transit played a key role in taking the masses to papal visit activities.
A transit authority’s website, contact center tools and social media are all critical touch points for customers as they engage with transit agencies. At this stage in the relationship, the focus should be on informing and educating prospective customers so they have the incentive to provide their demographic information (e.g. email address, cell phone number, social media contact, etc.).
Typically, when riding the rails in the Philadelphia region, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority customers can purchase daily, weekly or monthly passes — even onboard tickets — for their journeys. But the weekend of Sept. 26 to 27 will be far from a typical weekend in Philadelphia — Pope Francis will be in town, along with an estimated 1.5 to two million people attending public events along the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.