SEPTA put a call out looking for more than a dozen good men and women to join their police force.
The response was overwhelming.
More than 400 resumes came in.
That's doubles the usual response, which drew this response from SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel:
Holy Cow! Who knew so many Act 120 certified people wanted to be members of the Transit Police? More than 400 applied!! #awesometeam
— Thomas J. Nestel III (@TNestel3) September 18, 2013
Why are so many people knocking on SEPTA's security door?
"What other job can you do to help people? I like helping people. My father was a firefighter. I didn’t want to do that and get dirty (so I became a police officer)," said SEPTA Police Officer Timothy Cato, who has been on the force for 10 years.
The SEPTA police department was started in 1981 and is hitting a stretch of time when a good number of veteran officers are retiring.
What makes this recruitment effort for officers different than ones in the past is that SEPTA is looking to hire candidates who are already law-enforcement trained. The Accredited Municipal Police Officer's Training Course (PA Act 120) certification is required of every applicant.
So, 400 highly-qualified law enforcement-types are vying for the 20 current open positions on the SEPTA force.
"In order to expedite getting those spots filled and getting people on the street, we are trying to find officers who are in a part-time law enforcement position, in other areas of the criminal justice system or laid-off officers looking for full-time police positions," said Nestel.
SEPTA also saves a significant amount of money when they hire officers who already have police academy training. That type of training costs about $5,000 per candidate, so for a class of 20 new recruits, that’s a savings of $100,000.
SEPTA's marketing efforts included an ad in The Inquirer's Sunday paper, ads on buses and coordinated outreach to area police academy and law enforcement agencies. The application process opened for two weeks starting the Wednesday after Labor Day and is now closed.
An open hiring process generally results in about 200 applicants. There’s an open call approximately every two years.
There does seem to be a humble pride among the officers we talked with who wear the SEPTA police uniform.
“We are so much (to so many people)—a public relations persons and a lifesaver,” said Lt. Mike Fox.
The SEPTA police department was started in 1981 and is hitting a period when a bunch of veteran officers are retiring.
According to the job description, a SEPTA police officer is responsible for ensuring the safety of SEPTA customers, staff and property throughout the areas it serves.
“It’s a great job! This is one of those jobs where you are not in a station, you are not in a car. You are out on foot with people. You are in the system riding buses, riding the regional rail in 5 counties and 3 states,” said Nestel.
Recruits must be at least 21 years-old, have a driver’s license, high school diploma, pass a medical exam and background investigation, and complete a written exam. Applications are only accepted online. The department plans to sift through the 400 applicants and whittle them down to a manageable number.
Applicants who make the short list will spend a day with a training officer in the system.
The starting salary for a SEPTA police officer is $18 per hour. After graduation from the academy it’s $19.20, then after three years of service it’s $26 per hour. It is slightly less than the Philadelphia Police Department's starting salary, which is $43,748 for Police Academy recruits or $21 per hour. Upon graduation, the pay increases to $46,783, with scheduled increases to $60,759 or $29 an hour.
The SEPTA police department is the fifth largest in the state. The department is made up of 260 officers, with a capacity for 289. The coverage area for that force spans 2,200 square miles.
"It’s a dangerous job but it’s a great job. There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie. There’s a whole lot of transit pride. We are looking for people that," said Nestel.