New security cameras are being installed along the Schuylkill River Trail, a popular destination for joggers, bikers and walkers where complaints of sexual harassment against women have been a long-standing issue.
In total, 21 cameras will be installed, covering eight entrances to the trail from Arch Street to the South Street Bridge.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who embarked on a strategy to keep the trail safe two years, said the cameras represent the latest step in ongoing plans to protect-trail-users.
“I believe the trail overall is safe, but we don’t want to take any incident that happens on the trail lightly,” Johnson said. “People who come out to enjoy themselves on the trail should have the opportunity to enjoy themselves, free from any crime or violence.”
A spike in sexual assaults of women on the trail in 2015 led to efforts including increased lighting on the trail, location markers on the trail so people calling 911 could properly identify their address, and the creation of the Schuylkill River Town Watch, 80 volunteer trail users who are trained to observe, report and provide assistance if necessary while they are in the area.
“The next stage was securing cameras along the trail to serve as a deterrent,” Johnson said.
But ultimately, trail-users need to look out for each other, said Anthony Murphy, executive director of Town Watch Integrated Services, which trained the volunteers.
"The volunteers that we’ve trained have been on the trail, and they have been vigilant and watching out when they are there,” Murphy said. “They haven’t reported a great deal of negative activity that they’ve witnessed so I can’t say that there’s been a great spike.”
But the problem does persist, as a recent, shocking incident made clear. A 43-year-old woman and Philly native reported being surrounded and sexually harassed by teenagers on bikes around 5:45 p.m. last Tuesday.
The victim told Philadelphia Magazine that none of the several passersby came to her aid when she was accosted and assaulted by the young men until she started screaming, at which point they fled.
It does not seem statistically that a spike is underway at present in crimes against women on the trail. But such incidents seem shocking given the trail is a popular, beautiful feature of Philly that is typically filled with children and families in addition to athletes.
“The trail is a neighborhood,” Murphy said. “The most vigilant thing for anyone on the trail to do is realize it’s a community, and if they see something, say something, call 911.”
The latest trail safety measures cost $150,000, which was split between the offices of Johnson and City Council President Darrell Clarke.