Despite reports from other local media, officials at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) say one recent attack on the SEPTA subway system is not adequate evidence that a violent trend called the 'Knockout Game' has made its way to Philadelphia.
“We don’t want our riders or the general public to think that we have a problem of women walking in the stations and then getting bopped in the head. We have this one incident on video, but is this an issue? Is it a problem? No,” SEPTA spokesman Jerri Williams.
The Knockout Game is a trend where people are being hit with unexpected punches to the face; and before they know it, their attacker has videotaped the assault and run away.
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Two videos of Knockout Game-like attacks occurring in SEPTA subway stations were recently released by SEPTA police, but are the incidents actually linked to the trend?
Williams says speculation that the attacks are related to the Knockout Game are a bit off base.
“We really don’t know if we have a problem. We only have this one video and we don’t know what the guy was trying to do. Was it a knockout game or was he trying to get her phone and just didn’t follow through? We don’t know,” Williams said.
The videos released by SEPTA show two separate attacks involving passengers on the Market Frankford ‘El’ line and the Broad Street subway line.
The first attack occurred on the morning of Oct. 26. SEPTA surveillance video shows a man run up and punch a passenger who is sitting on the Market Frankford train. The suspect then runs out of the car just as the train’s doors are closing.
A second passenger was attacked while exiting Erie station on the Broad Street line last Friday afternoon. The video shows a woman walking towards the station exit, when a man runs up behind her, punches her in the head, and then runs off.
This afternoon, Williams confirmed that SEPTA has a person-of-interest in custody for questioning, and that the incident does not appear to be linked to the Knockout Game trend.
Still, the issue SEPTA officials face is determining how to distinguish between an isolated attack, an attempted burglary, and a Knockout Game mimic attack.
SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said his team is still reviewing the footage for specific characteristics to determine exactly what kinds of attacks have occurred.
According to Nestel, the videos of the attacks were released to solicit the public’s help in finding the perpetrators of the attacks, but he worries that they may not have accomplished that goal.
“Reported crime on the SEPTA system is dramatically down. I’m fearful that people will see these videos that we’re releasing and think that it’s unsafe; and it is not, it’s a safe system,” Nestel said.
“But when something happens, we’re putting the video out so that people see it and they can assist us in helping identify the person. I would urge people to use caution in believing that the SEPTA system is unsafe just because we’re being proactive about releasing the video.”
Nestel said SEPTA’s video surveillance system, which includes a total of 12,000 cameras with nearly 1,200 live feeds, are an important part of SEPTA’s security efforts. In addition, Nestel says SEPTA’s new plain-clothes tactical team, which uses crime data to target hotspot locations where crimes are likely to occur, has been very successful in preventing attacks at SEPTA stations.
NBC10 recently reported about a more light-hearted version of the Knockout Game called Smack Cam. That trend started as a playful game between teenage boys, but later took a violent turn as imitators took the idea to a more daring level.
Whether it’s Smack Cam or the Knockout Game, Nestel said -- thanks to video surveillance -- he’s confident that anyone who commits acts of assault on SEPTA buses and trains will be pursued and arrested. As for the culprits behind the assaults in the video footage, if they are caught, they could face charges ranging from harassment to simple assault.
“It doesn’t matter for us which it is, we’re gonna aggressively pursue the person and arrest them, and we’re gonna have video of it occurring. So good luck to sir-thug-a-lot who wants to claim a defense when we’re showing a video of him punching a woman in the back of the head for no reason,” Nestel said.
“Because of the video, we pursue stuff that wasn’t able to be pursued years ago. Any kind of misbehavior or actions that put safety and security in jeopardy on the system, we pursue vigorously.”