SEPTA Tries Pilot Program to See if Social Services on Its Routes Can Help Where Police Can’t

David Bjorkgren
Nicole Polit, an outreach specialist, talks with someone in Philadelphia. Image via Jessica Griffin, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Social services agency Merakey has partnered with SEPTA transit police to provide outreach specialists for vulnerable individuals on SEPTA routes, writes Patricia Madej for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The pilot program pairs substance-abuse and mental health professionals with SEPTA police to offer treatment and resources to those who need it.

Vulnerable population remain even when the pandemic has driven ridership down.

“What this program does, and what this project will do, is truly help people address the issue that’s at the heart of why they’re here,” said Jerome Graham, Merakey executive director.  “Locking them up and putting them in jail is not addressing their true issue.”

The pandemic has increased the number of people suffering from poverty, addiction and mental illness and some end up on the transit system, victimizing each other, says SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III.

The partnership is an example of trying to treat problems that don’t always require a police response.

“We’re going to be watching closely to see how we can improve it, so that it succeeds in a different way than just throwing police officers at a problem,” Nestel said.

Read more about this new SEPTA partnership at The Philadelphia Inquirer.