Transportation organizations regularly remind the public to be vigilant when using their systems — to be aware of any suspicious activities and people exhibiting odd behavior, and if they see something, immediately say something to personnel or police. But what happens when passengers are on a train, bus or trolley or in a station where they do not feel safe reporting an incident or are unable to easily reach out to personnel? In Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco and other cities across the country, the smartphones that almost everyone has to listen to music, send texts and check emails are being used to discreetly report security or safety issues to police.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is the latest transit organization to partner with ELERTS for the development of a mobile app that allows customers to report security or safety issues to transit police in seconds without placing a phone call. The “SEPTA Transit Watch” app, which officially launched on August 16, gives the public the opportunity to send photos, videos and accounts of incidents to SEPTA Police dispatch via text, with the option of remaining anonymous.
“We count on our customers to help be the eyes and ears of the system, and the SEPTA Transit Watch app now gives them a valuable tool to communicate directly with our police officers,” said SEPTA GM Jeffrey D. Knueppel.
The thought of person-to-person contact with police or SEPTA personnel might keep a citizen from reaching out for assistance when he or she witnesses an incident. With the Transit Watch app, the sender can have total anonymity — even his or her phone’s flash is automatically turned off when taking a photo for the report. The app also automatically gives the GPS location of the incident, which helps police if a rider is sending a report from a vehicle or not exactly sure of where he or she is. The two-way communication aspect of the app allows SEPTA Police dispatchers to ask questions or provide instructions to the rider, as if he or she were calling 911.
Transit Watch opens up variety of possibilities for citizens and SEPTA Police. “We can send out ‘Be On the Look Out’ [BOLO] messages through the app, regarding a person of interest being sought, such as a missing person or a criminal suspect,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III. “Anonymous tips we receive from the public can help expedite our searches.”
Added Knueppel, “This effort also enhances our overall “Make the Safe Choice” System Safety campaign by making it easier for riders to share tips that could end up saving a life.” The public can report trespassers or others behaving in an unsafe manner on a platform, risking a fall into the tracks.
And SEPTA Transit Watch furthers the Authority’s commitment to accessibility. “The app provides a new way for the deaf and hard of hearing community to communicate with SEPTA Police,” said Knueppel. Additionally, SEPTA Transit Watch includes visually-impaired functionality.
SEPTA Transit Watch is available for a free download from Apple and Android stores, but the system is not just for those with smartphones — people with old-style flip phones can “Text A Tip” and reach SEPTA Transit Police dispatch through a special text message number. “SEPTA Transit Watch and the text message line will allow us to start a new dialogue with our riders,” said Nestel. “We expect it will provide invaluable real-time information that will enhance safety and security throughout the transit system.”