PHILADELPHIA - SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel on Thursday said he will not step down from his position after another violent attack against a SEPTA employee caused the transit union to call for Nestel's resignation.
Transport Workers Union Local 234 boss Willie Brown accused Nestel of "not properly protecting riders and transit workers" by leading an understaffed police force and not properly charging violent offenders.
"This must stop now," Brown said. "We need a police chief who will attack the problem and not let riders and transit workers be attacked. It’s nothing personal but Chief Nestel needs to go."
Safety concerns bubbled to the surface on Monday when a SEPTA employee from the Buildings and Bridges division was violently assaulted by a group of teenagers inside SEPTA's City Hall station. No arrests have been made.
SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel
Speaking Thursday, Nestel called the attack "completely unacceptable" and sympathized with Brown's concern for his union members.
"Mr. Brown has a job, his job is to advocate for the employees of SEPTA and he is very passionate about that. I also share that commitment," Nestel said. "I consider SEPTA’s employees to be members of my family and I want them to be safe, and I want them to be treated well."
According to Local 234, ridership during the coronavirus pandemic dropped as low as 80 percent, but attacks on SEPTA employees have not decreased. They believe less crowding has made SEPTA employees more susceptible to attacks.
Nestel said mental health and homelessness exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic has caused problems at SEPTA stations, including the closure of Somerset Station in Kensington. SEPTA has outreach programs for people going through a mental health crisis, but Nestel suggested that more help is needed.
Both the union and SEPTA police are discussing ways to increase security inside and around stations, including hiring private security and utilizing real-time video to monitor situations more closely. The union called for SEPTA police to retool its "catch and release" measure and bring serious charges against offenders.
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