Crime victims testify about SEPTA safety

April 17, 2008 3:28:37 PM PDT
Philadelphia City Council heard first-hand accounts of the violence threatening SEPTA commuters. Many of the victims were young students just trying to get home from school.

"The tragic events that lead up to this hearing today should be a wake up call for us all," said Councilman Curtis Jones.

The public hearing about safety on Philadelphia's subways, elevated trains and buses was prompted by three recent high profile attacks against SEPTA riders.

In late March, Sean Conroy died after being assaulted by a group of teens on a concourse at 13th and Market Streets.

A week later, a gang attacked a woman on a platform near 8th and Market Streets. Days later, a third person was beaten by three men on a train near 15th and Market Streets.

"A lot of it is strong arm. A lot of it is kids in packs, four or five of them together," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Ramsey and his deputy testified that the violence seems to peak between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. after schools dismiss. They identified hot spots along the 24-stop Broad Street line above Broad and Girard Avenue.

Students from Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School at Broad and Spring Garden testified they have been victimized while heading home from school.

A gang attacked Roy Barksdale when he refused to give one of them his pocket change.

"One of his friends punched me in my face. And they (were) recording it with a camera," said Barksdale. He was hospitalized with a concussion.

"On the corner of Broad and Olney, I was approached by at least 10 guys. We had a couple of words. Next thing you know, I got hit in the face," said 12th grader James Jordan.

Video of that attack wound up on YouTube. Their principal testified she has documented assaults against school children often by other students during the last 6 years.

"So it's become a sport for a gang of boys to get together, get on a train, beat up someone, run from train to train and when the doors open exit totally," said Veronica Joyner.

Police officials testified the school district has staggered dismissal times in the past to prevent conflict and attacks.

SEPTA officials testified the transportation agency is upgrading it's video surveillance, improving interaction with city police and increasing it's own police presence with 75 officers targeting subway hot spots during peak hours.

"We have put more out. Commissioner Ramsey has put more out. We are seeing the dramatic effect on people's feeling of safety, I would say," said SEPTA spokesman James Jordan.

There are also ongoing discussions with the Guardian Angels about also patrolling the subways.