The Kensington Transit Corridor Overdose Response Study
In 2019, 1,150 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia. Eighty percent (80%) of these deaths involved opioids. Overdose deaths are concentrated in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, which has emerged as a ground zero for the worst urban opioid crisis in the country. Because so many drug users (and sellers) use the public transit system, drug activity and overdoses are concentrated around three subway stations in Kensington: Allegheny, Somerset and Huntingdon. These trends have placed significant pressure on the transit police who work within the epicenter of a major opioid overdose problem on the eastern seaboard of the US.
The project was designed to address a number of police concerns in relation to the vulnerable Kensington community. For example, homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness can serve as causal factors for crime and disorder in the area. Dealing humanely with these issues could help the police department better deliver transportation services that are clean, safe and efficient. Relationships between transit police and the community were another top priority when designing the current project. Since many within the Kensington community, especially the most vulnerable individuals, have negative attitudes towards the police, a project goal has been to introduce police as helpers and not someone to fear. Equally, and related, many within the police community do not view the vulnerable community through a lens of dignity and respect. Finally, traditional policing has not been successful along the Kensington-Allegheny corridor so an approach focusing on connecting people with social services, addiction treatment and mental health advocacy might better serve the community.
In response to the growing opioid epidemic, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) formed a partnership with Temple University to develop the Kensington Transit Corridor Overdose Response Study project. The project includes the implementation of a drug overdose rapid response pilot program centered on the Kensington corridor of Philadelphia. The SEPTA Police Department created a dedicated vehicle "Oscar One" to respond to overdoses in the area. SEPTA officers provide Narcan to overdose patients, offer social services information and transportation to a treatment facility if requested. Temple University researchers conducted an evaluation to analyze the impact of SEPTA’s pilot program which includes field observations and quantitative data analysis. The "Oscar One" video was produced as part of the project. The project is funded by a grant through the Department of Justice - Office of Justice Programs Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-Based Program.
The video was made possible due to Hayley Wight, Tom Nestel, Sara DeLucca, Bryan Carney, Matt Wentz, Brandon Maxwell, William Saunders, Marc Pasquarella, David Malloy, Sophia Carabba, Stefanie Lee, Nicole Polit, Courtney Martucci, Brian McFadden, Tim Catto, and Jennifer Wood. We would also like to thank The officers of District 4 and all of the SEPTA transit officers who participated in the project.
Funding for the Kensington Transit Corridor Overdose Response Study was provided by the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, in partnership with the Office of Victims of Crime. The views expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the official position or policy of SEPTA, SEPTA police department, Temple University, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, or the City of Philadelphia.