After acts of terrorism—domestic or international—law enforcement agencies are almost always asked: “How are you ‘ramping up’ your security efforts?”
“The public may see more police officers, including K-9 units, on patrol at our train stations, transportation hubs, and on the street following incidents like those that took place in New York and New Jersey in September, but we are always on heightened alert,” said Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Chief Thomas Nestel, who leads the Authority’s 270-member police department. “We work closely with local, state, and federal authorities and are in touch with them on a regular basis, regardless of whether an event has occurred or not.”
Police departments also rely on tips received from the public to help with their crime prevention efforts. “We always remind our riders to be aware of their surroundings, and if they see something that seems out of place or not quite right, to call 911,” said Nestel. “Don’t walk past an unattended bag and assume it was just left behind by someone rushing to the office.”
In 2015, SEPTA Police investigated 377 total items reported as “suspicious”; of those, 272 objects were described as being “unattended” (in some cases, both “suspicious” and “unattended” were used to label an object). Through September 21, 2016, the department had investigated 321 total “suspicious” items, of which 251 were defined as “unattended.”
“See Something, Say Something” tips were instrumental in the discovery of the explosive devices in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and in capturing the alleged bomber. “Because private citizens alerted police, the explosives were found and the suspect was caught before more harm could be done,” said Nestel. “If they had decided not to get involved and proactively contact the police, the outcome could have been much more drastic.”
According to Nestel, “See Something Say Something” calls to SEPTA Police following events such as those in New York and New Jersey “increase exponentially.” The upsurge, however, usually lasts only about a week.
“We have the tools at our disposal to respond to emergency calls immediately and determine whether or not a threat exists,” said Nestel. “But, we cannot be on every train or at every platform or station all of the time. This is where the public becomes our eyes and ears in the field, to contact us and let us know if they hear or see something that creates an uneasy feeling.”
“Although we have no information indicating the Philadelphia region is at risk for an incident, a historical review of terroristic events around the world shows that mass transit stations are often targets,” said Nestel. “We need the public to be vigilant all the time — not because they are afraid, but because they are determined to stop these extremists from harming anyone else.”
Heather Redfern is the Public Information Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.