SEPTA transit police chief steps down

SEPTA transit police
Former SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel abruptly retired.
Charles Mostoller

After a decade as SEPTA’s top cop, Transit Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III retired Tuesday, a move that went into effect immediately.

Nestel, 60, informed the authority’s leadership of his plans late last week, and, despite the short notice, the decision for him to step down was his, SEPTA spokesman Andew Busch told Metro. Busch said Nestel worked on a security detail Monday for the city’s Welcome America festivities.

Charles Lawson, a 28-year transit police veteran, was appointed interim chief. He most recently served as an inspector, the department’s second-highest rank.

SEPTA plans to consider internal and external candidates during a search process to find a permanent chief, Busch said.

“The safety and security of customers and employees is SEPTA’s top priority, and plans have been put in place to ensure continuity of operations for the Transit Police Department during this transition,” Leslie Richards, the authority’s general manager, said Tuesday in a statement.

Richards added that SEPTA plans to continue recent initiatives aimed at engaging people dealing with homelessness and drug addiction, as well as a program placing unarmed security guards at stations.

In March 2021, amid rising safety concerns on public transit, including assaults on employees, Transit Workers Local 234 called on Nestel to resign.

At around the same time, as WHYY reported, the local Fraternal Order of Police lodged a vote of no confidence in Nestel.

Nestel refused those demands and spoke about the difficulties SEPTA has had with the vulnerable population that has long sought shelter in authority’s facilities.

Before coming to SEPTA in 2012, Nestel was Upper Moreland’s police chief, and he also spent more than 20 years in the Philadelphia Police Department.

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