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For SEPTA, videos of violence a double-edged sword

Surveillance footage showing crimes help catch bad guys, but creates false impression of danger, officials said.

Multiple shots of the teen were made available by SEPTA Police.
Multiple shots of the teen were made available by SEPTA Police.Read moreSEPTA police

SARAH-ASHLEY Andrews spread peace yesterday in the form of water bottles and Tastykake Krimpets.

She, along with about a dozen volunteers, staged a "takeover" of the corner of 15th and Market streets, handing out the complimentary refreshments to passers-by as they ducked into the nearby SEPTA concourse.

"We want to promote peace, to show these people positive role models," said Andrews, the founder of Dare 2 Hope, a grass-roots organization that promotes suicide prevention and awareness. "We're here to show people that there is still kindness in our city, that people still care, that there's still love in the city."

The location wasn't an accident: Andrews, 28, of North Philly, and her group chose the spot in light of the recent spate of violent incidents on SEPTA buses and trains that have caught the public's attention.

* In the past two weeks, three bus drivers have been assaulted, one by an attacker with a knife, according to a SEPTA spokesman. That suspect, John McMillan, 26, surrendered to police Tuesday after seeing his face on the news.

* A 60-year-old man was knocked out at the 15th Street Market-Frankford El stop Monday by a 16-year-old boy who, sources said, Transit Police have identified.

* On March 19, a group of teens ganged up on another boy, pummeling him repeatedly, according to SEPTA. One of those teens has been arrested.

All of the incidents were recorded by surveillance cameras, and the dynamic footage was plastered across local media.

For Thomas Nestel III, chief of SEPTA's Transit Police, that exposure is a double-edged sword.

"When crime occurs on SEPTA, we have the video, we have pictures of people involved, and a result of that is that the incident becomes a story," he told the Daily News. "It's not a story if there is no video.

"The same incidents are occurring on street corners in the city every day, but they're not stories because there is no video for that violence."

Nestel said that the footage and its exposure in the media has become a vital tool. But it also creates the impression, he says, that the transit authority's trains and buses are wrought with violence - but reports of violent crime are actually down over previous years, according to stats from SEPTA.

Furthermore, his officers are seeing results: There have been arrests in three of the five incidents mentioned above, and a fourth suspect, in the attack on the 60-year-old, is expected to surrender to police this morning.

"If you commit a crime on SEPTA, we have you on video, we will find you and we will lock you up," he said.

Meanwhile, back on 15th Street, Pacer Brown, of West Philly, grabbed a water bottle from Andrews as he headed home from dinner at McCormick & Schmick's.

He loved the group's message, he said, so much so that it inspired him to sing "You Gotta Believe," a song he had penned.

"There's a lot of violence going on in the city, but there's a lot of life being lived, too," said Brown, 37.

"I like these guys' message. It needs to be said. And the free Tastykake doesn't hurt."