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Philadelphia Transit Police Chief Abruptly Quits After Criticism

Thomas Nestel, police chief of the Philadelphia area transit authority (SEPTA) abruptly retired Tuesday amid public concerns over crime and rider behavior on the transit network and an apparently rocky relationship between his administration and rank-and-file transit officers. reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Charles Lawson, a 49-year-old SEPTA police inspector and 28-year veteran of the force, took over as acting chief. No explanation was offered for why Nestel, 60, was retiring. The abrupt move comes after intense public criticism of the transit police for a recent spike in violent crime on the region’s trains, trolleys, and buses and in stations — as the system tries to rebound from the pandemic. Riders of SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line have for more than a year kept up a drumbeat of outrage on social media about smoking, the open use of drugs, and human waste and garbage in stations and on trains.

“I have loved being a member of the transit police,” Nestel wrote Tuesday in an email to the department. “You are fabulous people who work in a challenging environment during a tenuous time,” the chief said. “Your efforts to maintain order in a society that is recalculating the role of the police has been nothing short of amazing.” Internally, there also were sharp clashes between Nestel and his officers. In March of last year, the union representing SEPTA police officers announced a vote of no confidence in the chief, taking issue with what they considered inadequate patrol deployments and department policies that reduced their ability to detain and arrest suspects. The vote was 133-1. The Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109 blamed Nestel for unresponsive leadership and said “a hostile atmosphere of fear and retaliation has damaged the relationship between riders and the police force.”


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