SEPTA policing visible in Frankford

Fix­ing a ter­min­al prob­lem: SEPTA Po­lice have stepped up ef­forts in and around the Frank­ford trans­it stops since Au­gust. Cell phone thefts are a big prob­lem on SEPTA trans­it lines, es­pe­cially at the Frank­ford Ter­min­al. Uni­formed SEPTA of­ficers are try­ing to pre­vent those thefts by ad­dress­ing loiter­ing. SEPTA of­ficers, who train at the Phil­adelphia Po­lice Academy and have po­lice powers, have made ar­rests. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

A spe­cial de­tail of SEPTA po­lice of­ficers has been work­ing in and around trans­it stops in Frank­ford since Au­gust.

The mem­bers of Trans­it Team 1 are “our best and bright­est … and most mo­tiv­ated,” Thomas Nestel, chief of SEPTA po­lice, said in a Dec. 11 phone in­ter­view.

The chief said the trans­it agency’s po­lice plot out the crime hot spots in this sys­tem and de­ploy team mem­bers in those areas. For ex­ample, cell phone thefts, which are a prob­lem sys­tem­wide, are a big worry at the Frank­ford Trans­port­a­tion Cen­ter. Uni­formed SEPTA of­ficers are try­ing to pre­vent those thefts, Nestel said, “by ad­dress­ing loiter­ing … We’re keep­ing the fu­ture thugs of Amer­ica mov­ing.”

And by mak­ing ar­rests.

Dur­ing the first 11 months of this year, Nestel said, SEPTA’s trans­it po­lice have made 66 ar­rests for theft and rob­bery of cell phones at the ter­min­al, Mar­garet-Or­tho­dox and Church El stops.

SEPTA of­ficers, who train at the Phil­adelphia Po­lice Academy and have po­lice powers in the city and bey­ond, have is­sued cita­tions and made ar­rests. The fo­cus at Mar­garet-Or­tho­dox is drug deal­ing and qual­ity-of-life is­sues, he said.

Team mem­bers in plain clothes have been con­duct­ing sur­veil­lance of drug sales in and around the Mar­garet-Or­tho­dox El sta­tion and have made ar­rests of drug sellers and buy­ers, Nestel said.

The chief said his of­ficers make a “con­cer­ted ef­fort” to work with 15th Dis­trict po­lice. The Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment has com­mis­sioned a Temple Uni­versity study of crime in and around the Frank­ford ter­min­al, Nestel said, and the PPD and his of­ficers will use the study’s res­ults to work out crime-fight­ing strategies.


Chief In­spect­or Den­nis Wilson, of the Phil­adelphia PD’s Re­gion­al Op­er­a­tions Com­mand North, said the FTC is only part of the study’s fo­cus. Trans­port­a­tion hubs at Kens­ing­ton and Al­legheny av­en­ues and Broad and Ol­ney are oth­ers. Temple Uni­versity pro­fess­or Jerry Ratcliffe is work­ing with the com­mand­ers of three po­lice dis­tricts around those areas to ana­lyze crime stat­ist­ics. The goal of this “work in pro­gress,” he said, is to help the cap­tains bet­ter de­ploy their re­sources.

“We’ve al­ways had is­sues in these three areas,” Wilson said.

Each cap­tain as well as SEPTA’s force has an ana­lyst “drilling down in­to the crime in these areas,” he said.

Philly po­lice do that every day, he said dur­ing a Dec. 12 in­ter­view, but po­lice do it bet­ter and faster now than they pre­vi­ously did. Wilson poin­ted to a soph­ist­ic­ated com­puter map­ping sys­tem in which he can look at every crime com­mit­ted in Phil­adelphia.  

“We can see crime pat­terns emerge very early,” he said.

This new Temple Uni­versity study, which began three months ago, is ex­pec­ted to go deep­er.   

“We’re look­ing at each of­fend­er, where he is from and what he was do­ing in the area,” Wilson said, and “we’re look­ing at the same in­form­a­tion for the vic­tims.”

He said ana­lysts also are look­ing in­to which days the crimes were com­mit­ted and the times as well as en­vir­on­ment­al factors around the crime scenes. Each of the ana­lysts who are go­ing over these factors are en­cour­aged to come up with his or her own hy­po­thes­is, Wilson said, which they then are ex­pec­ted to back up.


It’s prob­ably not com­mon know­ledge that SEPTA has its own po­lice force.

“It’s been un­der the radar,” Nestel said. “It’s a vi­able and act­ive po­lice de­part­ment.” 

Nestel, who was a mem­ber of the city de­part­ment for 23 years and former chief of Up­per Mo­re­land’s po­lice, said SEPTA’s force was formed in 1981 to com­bat “wolf pack” at­tacks on the Broad Street Sub­way. It now has 275 of­ficers.

One of the first things Nestel did when he took com­mand of the SEPTA force in 2012 was to ask what the worst trouble spot was. The an­swer was pretty clear, he said. It was Kens­ing­ton and Somer­set. Name the prob­lem and it was there, he said. SEPTA of­ficers have been de­ployed there, and it’s been calmed down, Nestel said. ••

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