Whether they’re caught stealing, harassing, disturbing the peace or exposing themselves, before perpetrators are slapped with a citation they get hit with the hashtag: #cheesesandwich.
Thomas Nestel III, SEPTA’s Transit Police Chief, likes to offer suspects a glimpse of their menu options on his well-followed Twitter feed.
History lesson: “Throughout the evolution of prisoner processing there have been a variety of different meals provided to our guests,” said Nestel, who served as a Philly cop for more than 20 years. “And I remember as a rookie cop driving down to the White Castle down on Broad Street to pick up a bag of White Castle hamburgers because that’s what we served the prisoners at the time.”
Nowadays, it’s different. Of course, when a suspect is arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony, they still have to go in front of a bail commissioner in order to be released. And of course that process takes several hours.
“And so because we don’t want our guests to go hungry,” Nestel said, “we make sure that we feed our beloved guests a two-ounce cheese sandwich on white bread.”
And since SEPTA police do not have their own lock up, the transit cops also send their collars to the police department cells.
“So, when I started my Twitter account,” Nestel said. “I wanted to have a hashtag that indicated police activity. Some sort of an arrest. A contact with a person that had violated the law and that’s where I came up with #cheesesandwhich because it connects directly to where you’re going to be going, which is the basement of the roundhouse to dine on the finest prisioner cuisine that the police department could ever provide.”
Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, said iced tea was served along with that sandwich, but it changed to water about a decade ago.
And when bread mixes with water it expands.
“It’s filling,” he said. “It’s a simple meal, something that can reach a large number of people you have in custody that won’t have a problem eating it.”
Homicide Captain James Clark said: “It’s a cheese sandwich. I mean, it’s not Ruth’s Chris upstairs.”
The department has purchasing requirements and the contract goes out to bid, but they always buy American cheese.
“How could it be anything but American?” Nestel said. “We are patriots in this city and this is the birthplace of America, so you’re getting American cheese.”
“It just makes you want to hum the national anthem,” he added.
But still perps complain about the meal.
“Throughout the years I’ve heard complaints about those cheese sandwiches,” Nestel said. “They wanted something other than a cheese sandwich and my standard response: ‘if you don’t like it, don’t come back.'”
Follow Tommy Rowan on Twitter: @tommyrowan