SEPTA police union votes no confidence in chief Thomas Nestel

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel (WHYY file photo)

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel (WHYY file photo)

Updated at 5:35 p.m.

The SEPTA police union announced a vote of no confidence in SEPTA police chief Thomas Nestel III today.

Omari Bervine, the president of Fraternal Order of Transit Police lodge 109, said the vote was near unanimous, 133 to 1.

The vote comes after the union called on the authority to do away with a policy that directed them to delay the arrest of alleged criminal offenders on the system, including violent offenders. Officers said the policy endangers themselves and the riding public. But discontent with Nestel goes back beyond that.

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According to a press release, officers approved the vote “after years of frustration stemming from a lack of responsiveness and leadership” when it comes to the safety of riders and officers. Officers say “that over the past eight years Nestel has enabled a hostile atmosphere of fear and retaliation and has damaged the relationship between riders and the police force.”

“You just reach a breaking point where enough has to be enough in the interest of public safety,” said Bervine.

The union president said the union submitted a letter to SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards. They have yet to hear back, and plan to submit the letter to the board if they don’t get a response “in a timely fashion.”

The letter comes after SEPTA announced it would shut down Somerset Station to repair station elevators damaged by urine and needles. The station has become a gathering place where people use drugs.

“Something has to be done,” said Bervine. “Because at this point, I just don’t understand what more needs to be seen.”

The SEPTA transit workers union called for the resignation of Nestel Thursday citing dangerous conditions on the system for their workers. To illustrate their point, the union released a video showing a group of young people assaulting a SEPTA worker.

“I think that SEPTA’s police chief is in over his head,” Transit Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said in an interview prior to the call for resignation. “He’s walking around, people being assaulted, robbed, the whole nine yards. And nothing has been done about it. We don’t see a game plan.”

In a release, Bervine said Chief Nestel’s “handling of the worsening homelessness issues on the transit system has led to deplorable conditions, both on the trains and in the stations, and a sharp increase in crime.”

“This is completely unacceptable,” continued Bervine. “This situation grows more dire every day and, as long as SEPTA’s administration refuses to address these important public safety issues, it will only get worse. Our officers believe a change in leadership is the only viable pathway forward at this point, hence the vote of no confidence.”

Nestel declined comment in response to the police union’s vote, but SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said the chief has no intention to resign and has the full support of SEPTA leadership.

“We know they have concerns and they are legitimate concerns,” Busch said. “We share their concerns. Our focus is going to be working together with them to address these issues.”

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To address the calls for more safety, SEPTA plans to deploy 60 unarmed security guards along the system between 15th Street and Frankford Transportation Center along the Market Frankford Line.

The police union, which consists of 186 members, per Bervine, called this “an ill-advised and misguided attempt to mask the safety deficiencies and coverage gaps created by our current deployment strategy.”

“Security guards don’t really help us.” said Bervine. “The deployment of the officers that we have, that’s the problem. Throwing [60] security guards at the problem is not going to fix the [problem] if it’s a problem of policy.”

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