High-Tech Plan Helping SEPTA Police Nab Fare-Jumpers - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

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High-Tech Plan Helping SEPTA Police Nab Fare-Jumpers

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PHILADELPHIA -

SEPTA police have mounted a huge crackdown on fare-jumpers who don't pay to ride trains and subways.

But it's about much more than not paying up.

FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser rode with SEPTA's undercover officers in a recent sweep and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at their high-tech plan to make riders safer.

Thousands of commuters pay their fair share and pass through the turnstiles on SEPTA platforms every day. Then there are those who don't, so-called fare-jumpers who maneuver their way onto SEPTA trains every day free of charge.

"If the El was coming, I'm gonna jump." That was the mentality of one accused fare-jumper snagged by SEPTA police and caught on camera by FOX 29 last month as he hurtled his way onto the platform at Kensington and Allegheny avenues and didn't pay one dime.

"Usually, nobody's standing there, and I jump over there and get to the other stop before they come," he said.

This guy ended up in the hands of SEPTA police. He was handcuffed and given a $300 summons for evading the $2.25 fare.

"You know that's a $300 fine every time you do that right?" Schratwieser asked.

"Yes, sir," the man answered.

And he wasn't alone. On the day FOX 29 cameras joined SEPTA police in a late-afternoon fare-evasion blitz at Kensington and Allegheny, we saw five fare jumpers get snagged in just 25 minutes, including two guys jumping the turnstiles at Erie and Torresdale avenues. They were caught by the time they got off at "K&A."

"Why did you jump the fare over there?" one of them was asked.

"Yo, get outta my face, yo," one of them said.

Another said, "I didn't pay the fare because I'm broke and out of money."

"You know it's a $300 ticket right?" Schratwieser asked. "Two dollars to get on, $300 if you don't pay?"

"Oh," he responded.

SEPTA has made a concerted effort to catch fare-jumpers. The number of summons handed out to violators has jumped from 416 in 2011 to over 3,000 last year. And in the first six months of this year, 2,300 summons have been issued.

"And it's not because fare evasion is astronomically increasing," SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III said. "It's because we're catching them. We're addressing it, and we're gonna stop it."

SEPTA police have a simple but effective way of snagging them. Seventeen thousand cameras are focused on platforms and trains. Cashiers are also the eyes and ears on the platforms. Then, there's veteran SEPTA Officer Dell Foster, who keeps a watchful eye at headquarters. He's seen every kind of fare-evader you can imagine.

"The best guy, he was on his phone. And as he's walking, he fare-evaded, jumped and still was talking on the phone in the air and kept on walking. I don't know, I guess he just must have grown up doing it," Foster said.

Once a cashier or Foster spots a fare-jumper, video of the offense is called up to a screen. Foster snaps a picture with his cell phone and immediately zips that photo out to SEPTA police on platforms across the city.

"This way, they all know exactly what the guy looks like. So, that will be the end of that tune," Foster said.

"So, we're waiting for that train," Nestel said. "When that train gets there, the officer already has the picture on his or her cell phone."

Nestel says most times the fare-evaders are caught within minutes.

"We have, obviously, officers spread throughout the system. They're strategically placed at locations that we know we have a problem," the police chief said.

He says the crackdown on fare jumpers is a quality-of-life issue on SEPTA. He says if hard-working people can pay their fair share, why should others get away with paying nothing?

"If you think you can beat 17,000 cameras, you're a bad dude, but you won't. We'll catch you, and we'll be hooking you up with a cheese sandwich," Nestel said.

He also believes there's a direct correlation between fare-evaders and crime on the system.

"It is my opinion that fare-evaders are the first step to real crime on the system," Nestel said. "They're not jumping the turnstiles to go visit grandma or headed to the library. They're jumping the turnstile to create disorder on the system and commit crime."

Back on the platform, we pressed the fare-jumpers who got caught for an explanation.

"You know it's a $300 fine, right – 300 bucks versus $2 to get on," Schratwieser pressed another suspect. "Not a good deal dude. Should have paid the $2 bucks, right?"

"I know that," the suspect responded.

"It's a crime," said another.

SEPTA says since its crackdown on fare-evaders started, serious crimes like robbery, theft, rape and murder are down 14 percent across the system.

And, just last Friday, a fare-evader who was caught – police say he was wanted for rape, Schratwieser reported.

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