Letter to MTA Chair Foye and Governor Cuomo re: decision to hire 500 new police officers in NYC subways 12.19.19
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Patrick J. Foye
Chairman and CEO, MTA
New York, NY 10004
Dear Governor Cuomo and Chair Foye:
I am writing to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) recently approved decision to hire 500 more police officers to patrol the New York City subway. As quality-of-life concerns among straphangers continue to rise, this is a critical step to ensure everyone feel safe while navigating our subway system, the lifeblood of our city.
While felony crimes in the subway system have been on a downward trend since peaking in the early 1990s, there are some indicators that we are moving back in the wrong direction, particularly when it comes to misdemeanor crimes. According to figures compiled by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), there were 1,185 transit misdemeanor assaults citywide from January 1 through November 17, 2019. That represents a 10.9 percent increase over last year’s figure in the same time frame. Incidents of harassment and groping are also up this year according to the NYPD, by 17.9 percent to 928, and 10.6 percent to 450, respectively. As of November of this year, there were also 68 reported hate crimes in the subway, a more than 50 percent increase over last year. This uptick in misdemeanors contributes to a perception that our subway system is becoming less safe, undoubtedly causing many commuters to seek alternative modes of transportation.
The system has also become less safe for transit workers. Assaults against subway workers are up 39 percent from last year, according to the Transit Workers Union Local 100 (TWU). Eighty-five workers were assaulted from January to August 2019 — up from 61 during the same time period last year. These attacks have a deleterious effect on worker morale, which can ripple through the entire transit system.
As a frequent rider of the subway myself, I cannot count the number of times I have had to personally intercede in a physical or verbal altercation, whether on the platform or in a subway car. This expansion of police patrols underground will ensure that there is more capacity to address these kinds of disputes in a professional manner.
I understand there are some who have criticized this move, claiming it will contribute to the over-policing of young black and brown men. I have spent my career denouncing unequal treatment based on skin color, and I am deeply sensitive to those concerns. But many do not remember what the city was like when I served on the police force in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990 alone, we saw 17,500 transit crimes committed. Riders and workers alike were afraid to go underground after a certain hour, and our subway system — and our city by extension — suffered as a result. We cannot take this period of relative safety for granted. We must be vigilant against any threats to the progress we have made.
I am also cognizant of the appeals from transit advocates to use limited resources to expand bus and subway service. I agree, but I do not believe these investments are mutually exclusive. The MTA can, and should, allocate funding to address the need for increased bus and subway service in our transit system, however the cornerstone of prosperity in New York City is a commitment to public safety, and we must always remember the gains that were won after decades of work.
An increased police presence is not a panacea for our subway safety issues, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are other measures we can adopt to make the system safer. For example, I have repeatedly called on the MTA to allocate funding to provide bystander intervention training for its customers, which would provide riders with de-escalation skills to ensure the safety of their fellow passengers when a dispute or attack is occurring. And to ensure accountability among the newly-hired officers patrolling the subway, we should equip them with body cameras, just as we do for NYPD officers. I again thank you for your partnership in helping to keep New York City’s straphangers safe each and every day.
Brooklyn Borough President