The Subway is in Financial Crisis. Are 500 More Police …

The Subway is in Financial Crisis. Are 500 More Police …

More than 2,500 police officers patrol New York City’s subway, where crime is down sharply from the era of rampant violence and graffiti three decades ago.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, nevertheless, wants more police.

He is seeking to expand the force by 20 percent, hiring 500 more officers, which Mr. Cuomo says are needed to combat fare evasion and to address issues like homelessness.

The plan would cost the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more than $50 million a year even as it faces a looming financial crisis and struggles to provide reliable service.

“Historically, the N.Y.P.D. did the policing in the transit system, but there has been a dramatic increase in crime in the subway system,” Mr. Cuomo, who controls the subway, told reporters recently. “Felonies are up, assaults are up, robberies are up, and I’ve been talking about this for years.”

While some individual categories of crime are up this year, the overall number of major felonies on the subway is actually down, according to New York Police Department statistics.

The city’s outgoing police commissioner, James O’Neill, challenged Mr. Cuomo, calling his comments a “total mischaracterization,” and arguing that the subway was safe.

“Over all, crime is down,” said Commissioner O’Neill, who announced on Monday that he was resigning.

The plan to hire new officers — primarily for the subway but also potentially for buses — has already come under fire from transit advocates for being too expensive as the agency is considering subway and bus service cuts and major layoffs.

Transit groups have urged Mr. Cuomo to cancel the plans for new officers, who would work for the transit agency rather than the city’s police department, as the current force does. The governor, they say, should instead focus resources on modernizing the subway, which still relies on signal equipment that was introduced before World War II.

The proposal has become even more unpopular after two viral videos raised concerns about overly aggressive policing on the subway.

One video showed an officer punching two young men, leading to the officer being transferred to desk duty. A second video showed a swarm of officers clamoring on to a train to arrest a man, frightening riders, even though the man did not appear to resist. The police said they were responding to reports that the man had a gun, though they did not find one on him.

Hundreds of protesters flooded a subway station on Friday and jumped the turnstiles to protest what they said was police brutality. Leaders on the left like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon have criticized the crackdown on fare evasion as targeting poor people.

“There is no excuse for the excessive use of force and hyperaggressive policing we saw in these two incidents,” Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, said at a news conference at City Hall.

Transit officials have warned that they are facing a growing budget deficit. While officials at the authority say they are not planning to cut subway or bus service, the prospect of such cuts was enough to prompt Andy Byford, the subway’s leader, to threaten to resign last month.

Mr. Byford ultimately decided to stay after raising concerns to his bosses at the transit agency about the impact of service cuts and what he believed was excessive interference from Mr. Cuomo’s office.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cuomo, Dani Lever, said the transit agency must do both — improve service and address concerns over crime.

“New Yorkers demand, deserve and are generously funding a subway system that is efficient and safe — the M.T.A. is neither yet,” Ms. Lever said in a statement.

Still, the total number of major felonies on the subway is down slightly this year, according to police statistics. There were 1,774 major felonies during the first nine months of this year, down from 1,799 during the same period last year.

One category, robberies, was up more than 11 percent this year while assaults were flat and grand larcenies had declined. There were two murders in the first nine months of this year, compared with one last year; there were three rapes this year and none last year.

All told, the subway is remarkably safe considering that it serves about 5.5 million people every day. There are about seven major crimes per day, compared with nearly 50 major crimes per day in 1990 when many New Yorkers were leery about riding the subway, especially outside rush hour.

Mr. Cuomo’s office defended his decision to hire more officers by saying that he was specifically referring to arrests when he said subway crime was up and pointed to statistics showing that the number of felony arrests on the subway was up slightly this year.

Several recent incidents have raised concerns about subway crime, and New Yorkers regularly encounter agitated people on the subway who yell and threaten other passengers. One of the murders this year was captured in a graphic phone video that showed the victim struggling with his attackers before shots rang out.

Mr. Cuomo has also pointed to the subway’s rising homeless population as part of a decline in “quality of life issues.”

There were 2,178 homeless people on the subway during one day in January this year, compared to 1,771 last year — a more than 20 percent jump, according to a report by the transit agency. The report recommends that the new M.T.A. officers enforce rules about not sleeping or panhandling on the subway and help with outreach to access shelters.

Expanding the police force will likely add to the transit agency’s financial challenges.

The annual cost for one new officer is nearly $93,000 in the first year, including overtime, health benefits and pension costs, according to a report by the Citizens Budget Commission. Hiring 500 officers and 81 supervisors will cost $56 million in the first year and grow to nearly $120 million per year in a decade.

At the same time, the subway is struggling to rebound. The on-time rate for trains recently rose above 80 percent for the first time in years, from 65 percent in 2017. But there were still more than 35,000 train delays in September, including a train that broke down in Brooklyn in a smoke-filled tunnel.

Transit officials are also negotiating a new union contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents more than 38,000 subway and bus workers. The negotiations have turned nasty, and workers recently held a large rally outside M.T.A. headquarters.

The union, which has been a close ally of Mr. Cuomo’s and a major contributor to his campaigns, has won lucrative contracts in recent years. But major wage increases for workers could deepen the authority’s budget hole.

The idea of having M.T.A. police officers patrolling the subway has also raised concerns that the state is intruding on a realm that has long been overseen by the city. The 2,500 officers currently on the subway work for the New York City Police Department. Mr. Cuomo has also received criticism for sending State Police troopers to New York City instead of upstate areas that rely on them.

The transit agency does have a separate force of more than 700 police officers who patrol the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and M.T.A. bridges and tunnels.

Those officers are not required to wear body cameras, like city officers, prompting concerns about accountability for officers accused of wrongdoing. A state senator introduced a bill to require M.T.A. officers to wear body cameras that record audio and video.

Mr. Cuomo and transit officials said the videos of police aggression on the subway were disturbing and agree that M.T.A. officers should wear body cameras.

The authority’s managing director, Veronique Hakim, said in an interview that more officers were needed because both riders and subway workers were being assaulted.

“I don’t think our customers should feel that we’re doing anything less than absolutely everything we can to ensure their safety and security,” she said. “Subway safety is our top job.”

Taylor Lorenz and Ashley Southall contributed reporting.

Published at Tue, 05 Nov 2019 02:21:00 +0000


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