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SORT Officers: Keeping the System Secure and Safe

What SORT of guys are they? Well, simply put, they are Special Operations Response Team (SORT) officers, a special anti-terrorism unit within SEPTA's Transit Police Department.

Officers Patrick Smythe and Ken Lanning are members of this special detail. As part of SORT, they have been thoroughly trained in anti-terrorism awareness through a program that includes threat recognition, response and prevention techniques.

While all of the 260 sworn officers are responsible for SEPTA's 2,200 square-mile service region - including over 100 stations on the Market-Frankford, Broad Street, and Regional Rail Lines - SORT concentrates law enforcement efforts on anti-terrorism and weapons of mass destruction detection and prevention. SORT is composed of 14 officers, two sergeants and two lieutenants.

A major component of the SORT team's protection efforts is the GIA Tracker-XRC, a state-of-the-art explosives and radionuclide detector that detects gamma rays - in a sense, a bomb- sniffing machine. It was purchased with a grant from Homeland Security issued through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).

Officers Smythe and Lanning, as well as other SORT members, are highly trained on the GIA Tracker-XRC. When an unattended package is discovered on a SEPTA vehicle or property, SORT members use the GIA Tracker-XRC to analyze the chemical makeup of the suspicious package. SEPTA has worked with manufacturer Clear Technologies in an extensive research and development program to increase the sensitivity of the GIA Tracker-XRC. The GIA Tracker-XRC is an advance tool, addressing potential threats and assuring the safety of riders, while reducing potential disruptions to service.

Smythe and Lanning are on the front line each day protecting SEPTA commuters. Their experience and passion for the job allows them to tackle tough and potentially harmful situations.

Officer Smythe, who has a 22-year career in law enforcement with SEPTA, takes great pride in his job.

"Our goal is for our passengers to feel secure while riding SEPTA," said Officer Smythe. "To ensure that, we must treat every incident or call as though it's the real thing."

The team receives up to five calls a day, and can be deployed anywhere from Suburban Station to surrounding hubs, bridges and remote areas in the SEPTA service region.

Lanning, a SEPTA Police veteran of more than 20 years, remarked, "The satisfaction you get from trying to protect people is rewarding."

Smythe, Lanning and the other members of SORT take care of situations, before commuters have to worry.

Officers Ken Lanning and Patrick Smythe

First row: Officer Roemel Martin; Second row: Officer Richard Galanti, Lieutenant Chuck Lawson, Police Officer Ken Lanning, Officer Pat Smythe, Sergeant Kevin Mahoney, along with members of the National Geographic crew.

The GIA Tracker-XRC.