SEPTA's 200 unionized police officers appeared ready to strike at 2 p.m. today after last-ditch negotiations broke off last night without resolving a 30-month impasse over wages and health benefits.

"Unless something miraculous happens, we'll strike," said Fraternal Order of Transit Police spokesman Anthony P. Ingargiola.

Anticipating a strike, SEPTA issued a joint statement with Mayor Nutter decrying an FOTP official's warning that riders should avoid public transit because it wouldn't be safe until striking police return.

Nutter called that claim "irresponsible," and compared it to "falsely yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater."

Jim Jordan, SEPTA's head of public safety, told the Daily News, "Our 40 SEPTA police commanders, who do not belong to the union, will be in uniform and in the transit system, focusing on the morning rush and on the afternoon rush between 2 and 6:30 p.m., including the hours when we have school dismissals.

"We will also have Philadelphia police officers assisting us," Jordan said, "so we will have 70 to 90 officers in the system during those key times - the same staffing levels and the same level of security that we have now."

Jordan said that city police will focus on stations, concourses and public areas while non-union SEPTA commanders, "who have more experience on the subway system," will be riding the trains and patrolling the platforms.

Additionally, he said, police officers from Temple, Penn, Amtrak and Upper Darby will help in their respective areas.

"Nobody has more respect for the SEPTA police department than I do," Jordan said. "But like the mayor, I find it troubling that one or two people in the union would use the scare tactic of telling people not to ride the system because it's not safe. It's safe."

Philadelphia cops will cover the Broad Street Line and the Market-Frankford El, said police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore.

The beats will be covered by paying overtime to officers who would normally be off-duty. "Our understanding is that SEPTA would subsidize the overtime," Vanore said. *

Staff writer David Gambacorta

contributed to this report.