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SEPTA Police Officials Highlight Staffing Issues But Say 'It's Not An Issue Of Money'

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The SEPTA police officer hurt during a shootout earlier this month was released from the hospital on Friday. Now, we're learning more about what some SEPTA officers say is a lack of men and women on the force.

So many people who take SEPTA agree.

"I would want to see more officers, if possible, at every station," a rider said.

SEPTA's police union says staffing in the department is a problem.

"It's an issue in terms of public safety as we know. But even more so, it's a concern for our officers," FOP Lodge 109 President Omari Bervine said.

The SEPTA police union adds that 28-year-old Ervis Onuzi was by himself, without a partner, when he responded to a shootout earlier this month when he was struck by gunfire in his abdomen.

"Thankfully, it looks like he's going to be OK, but he was solo that night. And that speaks to the issues when you have a department that's understaffed. You typically then see a lot of officers who are assigned to solo patrols as opposed to being partnered up," Bervine said.

SEPTA officials say its police force is budgeted for 260 officers but currently has 210 on its staff. We asked the SEPTA police chief why there are so many vacancies.

"The money is there so it's not an issue of money. It's an issue of people wanting to become police officers. Things have changed in society that make this not necessarily as appealing as it used to be," Chief Thomas Nestel said.

SEPTA officials add they're talking about how to retain officers who may sometimes leave the transit agency for higher-paying local police departments.

"We are recruiting. We're looking for folks who want to make a difference, who want to make it safer for SEPTA riders and employees. The application process is always open," Nestel said.

As for Onuzi, he was released from Temple University Hospital Friday after spending nine days there because of his gunshot injury.

SEPTA police believe he'll be working again after he recovers.

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