Use caution: Be street-smart to stay safe

Alicia Colombo

By Constance Garcia-Barrio


Good weather, time with friends and festivals beckon. While these pleasures are alluring, older adults may be concerned about their safety on the streets of Philadelphia.

According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), COVID has exacerbated the underlying factors that lead to violence: limited economic and educational opportunities, and the lack of access to resources.

In a recent Town Hall on Gun Violence held by the Mayor’s Office, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw confirmed there is already an 80% increase in shootings over the entire year of 2020. Outlaw urges Philadelphia gun owners to do their part to prevent and reduce gun violence by keeping their firearms secured and locked up. Philadelphia has several programs to help reduce gun violence, including free gun lock giveaways and gun buy-back events.

According to Philadelphia Police Department, the three main causes of gun violence in the city – arguments, drugs and domestic violence – rarely involve random shootings of older adults. So, please, while you need to use precaution, do not let fear prevent you from enjoying the outdoors this summer.

By staying informed, alert and aware of your surroundings at all times, you can enjoy safe travels and activities throughout Philadelphia. It’s wise to keep a few tips in mind to enjoy outings safely.

“Daytime always beats night,” says Philadelphia Police Officer Tracy Lewis. “There’s better visibility.”

Even so, older adults can take steps to help ensure safe evening outings. “Say, you want to attend a night lecture on a college campus,” Lewis says. “Plan your route ahead of time. You can go to Google Maps for information. Find out where parking [or the nearest transit stop] is available, and where you’ll walk from [there] to the lecture. If you feel unsafe, Penn, Temple and most other schools have call boxes to contact campus police. [You can use the box to] to call and ask them to accompany you to the event.”

Philadelphia is a large city, so you can become disoriented in unfamiliar places – even during the daytime. “If that happens, call 911,” Lewis says. “It’s always good to know the name of the street you’re on. But if you don’t, [look for] a school, library, corner store or other landmark you could describe to the dispatcher, who’ll relay the information to officers nearby. The police will know exactly where you are because they patrol that area.”

Once the police arrive, they’ll give you directions on how to reach your destination. They’ll also provide help in case of a medical issue, she says.

Demonstrations and protests present a scenario where a little precaution can go a long way. Check it out from a distance first. “Do things seem peaceful? Orderly? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s fine,” Lewis says. “But now and then, agitators try to hijack the event, so stay alert.”

If you’re participating in an outdoor event during the summer, be sure to stay well-hydrated. “People pass out due to heat all the time,” Lewis cautions. “Carry a beverage with you to be on the safe side, or see if there’s a store nearby where you can buy food or water if needed.”

Public transit safety

Similar safety precautions apply, if you’re taking SEPTA – which, despite recent news of violent acts, has an overall low crime rate. “Take a moment to plan your itinerary,” says SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel. “Knowledge not only saves you time but can make a difference in your demeanor. If you look assured rather than confused, you’re a less attractive target for opportunistic crimes.”

For guidance about the best travel route using public transportation, call SEPTA’s Customer Service Department at 215-580-7800 (TDD/TTY for hearing or speech impaired: 215-580-7853), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

Precaution is prevention when it comes to your fare card and cash, too. “Keep it in your pocket or your jacket instead of your purse [or wallet],” Nestel advises. “If you have to dig in your purse, you may expose your money or your wallet. Also, if you carry [the fare card] in your hand, keep your attention on where you’re walking. You’re less likely to trip.”

Once you board a SEPTA vehicle, “Sit back and enjoy the ride,” Nestel says. “Put your cell phone away. If you’re looking at your phone, you could [become distracted and] miss your stop.”

The time of day you choose to travel may have more to do with personality than safety. “I think of my grandfather, a man who liked quiet, so he traveled in the off-peak hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” Nestel explains. “My grandmother, on the other hand, enjoyed riding during peak times so she could strike up a conversation [with fellow passengers]. Whenever you travel, there’s help on hand. All the train cars have emergency buttons, the stations have call boxes and SEPTA employees are available.”

Likewise, you can get assistance readily from the Philadelphia Police. “In case of an incident, call 911,” Lewis says. “The dispatcher will ask a series of questions, including your location and a description of the assailant. Anything unique you notice, like a tattoo or an unusual T-shirt, is extremely helpful. The police can look for someone with that unique feature.”

Help may be ongoing, Lewis says: “We offer guidance in filling out victim compensation forms, and we can refer older adults to organizations that provide further assistance.”


Victims of crimes committed by adult offenders (18 and older) may contact the Philadelphia Police Victims Services Unit at 215-685-1158 for information about there rights and available assistance, including the Victims Compensation Assistance Program that provides financial assistance for medical expenses or loss of income.


Native Philadelphian Constance Garcia-Barrio writes about many topics, including Black history.

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