Inside SEPTA's challenges and changes with its newest acting police chief

"There's nowhere that you could go within SEPTA and not be on camera," said Chief Lawson.

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Thursday, July 28, 2022
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"If you commit a crime on SEPTA, you're on camera. We possess over 30,000 cameras throughout the system and there's nowhere you could go within SEPTA where you're not on camera," said Chief Lawson.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Through the turnstiles and onto the platform, SEPTA's Acting Police Chief Chuck Lawson gave Action News an inside look at the challenges the transit system is facing.

We found about half a dozen syringes in our short walk along the Market-Frankford Line, which Chief Lawson says is a hot spot for drug use, crime and homelessness.

SEPTA riders we spoke with agree.

"You'll walk along here, you'll see needles discarded," said Lawson.

Lawson asked one rider what makes him feel most unsafe. The rider replied, "I feel like the needles on the track-- that's always kind of alarming."

SEPTA's Acting Police Chief Chuck Lawson talks about the challenges the agency is facing and the changes on the way during an interview with Action News on July 27, 2022.

"I see people smoking K2 on SEPTA, I see peeing on themself on SEPTA, talking to themselves on SEPTA. It's a lot of stuff that goes on on SEPTA," said William Bolton of South Philadelphia.

Just three weeks into his new role, Lawson is allocating 25 additional officers to patrol the Market-Frankford Line to prioritize safety for its customers.

"My goal number one right now is to provide a better experience for them, to increase police visibility, increase deterrents and increase enforcement," said Lawson.

We noticed more patrols on the platforms.

"These officers will just go back and forth, checking every station that they get off at," said Lawson.

For SEPTA, they want strength in numbers, which they don't have yet.

Chief Lawson says they're now seeing some quality applicants after the system decided to offer a more competitive wage for officers.

For now, they rely on the keen eyes and ears of their dedicated dispatchers. They're monitoring the system's surveillance cameras.

The cameras have been instrumental in capturing some of the city's most dangerous criminals -- like the man accused of raping a woman this month near a SEPTA platform or the accused serial killer police say was targeting SEPTA riders in June.

"If you commit a crime on SEPTA, you're on camera. We possess over 30,000 cameras throughout the system and there's nowhere that you could go within SEPTA and not be on camera," said Chief Lawson.

The transit agency is also looking to hire five additional dispatchers who do not need to be sworn officers since their job is to monitor activity on the system's cameras.