SEPTA’s top cop retiring amid increased crime on the transit system

Nestel is leaving just short of 10 years on the job, after more than a quarter-century of working in law enforcement.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III is retiring after almost 10 years at the mass transit agency.

Before coming to SEPTA, Nestel spent two decades as a Philadelphia police officer, then became police chief in Upper Moreland.

His decision comes as the transit agency is working to combat an increase in crime and violence on city trains.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said Nestel’s backup, Charles Lawson, is taking over for now.

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“Acting Chief Lawson has been with the agency for 28 years, starting out as a patrol officer, and has consistently moved up through the ranks,” Busch said. “As a police inspector for the last four years, he has also served in the acting role for Chief Nestel’s absence.”

The agency has recently seen a major increase in public safety spending after experiencing a pandemic-induced decline in ridership.

Busch said Lawson will continue “to advance safety and security efforts, so he’s overseeing everything from the police officers to other initiatives to add eyes and ears on the system with ambassadors.”

The unarmed SEPTA ambassadors are designed to extend the reach of the transit police. SEPTA  is also bringing in trained social workers to help riders with no destination, connecting them with social services as needed.

Busch said Acting Chief Lawson is already reaching out to agencies throughout the region to touch base with them on the change of leadership.

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