Safe Havens

David Silverman’s goal is to see truckstops stereotyped as “safe havens” for truck drivers, motorists, buses and families. His Philadelphia truckstop is well on its way to earning just such a reputation, he says.

Dave Silverman likes to think of his Walt Whitman Truck Stop as a safe haven for truck drivers and motorists. It hasn’t always been that way. Two years ago the parking lots of the Philadelphia travel plaza had problems with prostitution and drug dealing.

Business was bad for Silverman, who in the past had tried to enlist the help of local law enforcement to no avail. That’s when he called the FBI.

Within weeks the Bureau was at work acting under jurisdiction granted through an obscure provision in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The act was well known for provisions that put police officers on the street and curtailed automatic weapons. But the law also made it a federal crime to distribute drugs within 1,000 feet of a truckstop and doubled violator prison sentences available to judges.

U.S. attorneys successfully prosecuted nearly a dozen defendants, and the Walt Whitman Truck Stop became a dangerous place for criminals.

“The place is safer now,” Silverman says. “After those arrests business improved.”

Inspired by his success, the independent truckstop owner formed a partnership with local law enforcement, the FBI and other truckstop owners to fight crime and improve the image of area truckstops. Now he hopes the local effort can help truckstop owners nationwide.

“We have to attack this head on,” Silverman says. So he formed LET’S ACT or Law Enforcement, Truck Stops, and Caring Truckers. The group first met last November in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks to discuss crime at truckstops and is planning to meet again soon. Nearly 60 people attended, including a dozen truckstop owners.

Silverman, president of Mid-Atlantic Truck Stop Owners and a member of NATSO, would like to see LET’S ACT expand, but he worries that truckstop owners are concerned about the negative publicity a spotlight on truckstop crime might bring. “I took a black eye initially,” Silverman says. “But now truckers know, if you’re coming to Philly, don’t come here for drugs. I needed to make that stand.”

Silverman hopes other truckstop owners follow his example, especially after Sept. 11. The attacks, which were carried out with planes, could have just as easily been pulled off with trucks. That’s one reason why Silverman was able to get federal law enforcement support for his November meeting. More than $1 billion has been set aside for transportation security under the government’s homeland security efforts, and Silverman would like to see truckstops share in some of that money.

“We really need to come together as an industry – travel centers, law enforcement and truckers need to make truckstops safe havens,” he says. “I’d like get a hold of some of that for fences and proper surveillance. We think the next terrorist target could be hit with a bomb on a truck.”

As for the Walt Whitman Truck Stop, Silverman has expanded his security and now local law enforcement routinely surveys the property. “Now, the lot’s full. It used to be empty on Friday – now it’s not.”

To join LET’S ACT or learn more about it, contact Dave Silverman at 215-336-6200.