New York City will increase police presence in subways to combat crime

The state would pay for an additional 1,200 overtime shifts per day for police officers to patrol the subway. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK – After a series of violent deaths on the subway raised concerns about safety in New York City, Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams on Saturday announced a plan to increase the presence of police officers in the transit system.

Hochul, a Democrat who is less than three weeks from Election Day, said the state would help the city pay for an additional 1,200 overtime shifts per day for police officers to patrol the subway to keep New Yorkers safe, and continue to install cameras inside train cars.

Hochul said that many New Yorkers are concerned about crime on the subway and that she would “focus on getting that sense of security back”.

The plan was announced at a joint news conference at Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

It is the latest in a series of efforts to address subway violence – a stubborn problem that grew worse during the pandemic and that has been difficult for elected officials to address.

Shortly after Adams took office in January, he and Hochul held a similar event to announce a plan to increase police patrols.

But the violence has persisted. There have been nine killings on the subway this year – a level that is much higher than in the five years before the pandemic, when there were, on average, about two killings per year.

A man was recently killed by a subway train in Queens after falling onto the tracks during a fight on the platform at rush hour, and a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed on the subway in Queens. Another man was fatally stabbed while riding a train in Brooklyn last month, and a homeless man was arrested for the murder.

Adams noted that 40 per cent of the murders are believed to have been committed by people with a history of mental health problems.

Adams, a former transit police officer and a Democrat who ran for mayor on a public safety message, has delivered conflicting messages on crime.

He said in May that he had “never witnessed crime at this level”, even though it is much lower now than it was in the 1990s.

But he has also argued that he is bringing down some types of crime and has blamed the media for fuelling panic.

It prompted a New York Post cover last Friday showing Adams riding a unicorn and living in a “fantasy land”.

“If New Yorkers don’t feel safe, we are failing,” Adams said on Saturday, adding that the goal of the new plan is “the omnipresence of police officers and the removal of those who are dealing with mental health issues”.

Hochul, for her part, is facing a stronger-than-expected challenge from Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor, as she runs for her first full term. Two recent polls showed Hochul’s lead over Zeldin shrinking.

Hochul provided a new slogan for the subway plan: “Cops, Cameras and Care.”

She said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-run transit agency, has already installed more than 200 cameras on subway trains following her announcement last month that officials would install two security cameras on every car. She said that the state would make a “significant investment” from a state public emergency fund to pay for the overtime shifts.

The governor also said the state would set up two new units at psychiatric centres, including 50 inpatient beds, to help those with serious mental illnesses.

And she said that the MTA police, a separate force, would be deployed into subway stations at four major commuter railroad hubs, including Penn Station and Grand Central Station.

The head of the city’s major police union immediately criticised the subway safety plan and said that it is unsustainable to keep asking police officers to work more overtime shifts, especially when many officers have left the department.

“The increased workload is crushing the cops who remain,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “The answer is not to squeeze them for more forced OT.”

Lynch called instead for wage increases and better working conditions to retain officers. He said the idea of omnipresence is an “illusion”.

When state and city officials were asked on Saturday about whether having officers on subway platforms would actually reduce violence, the city’s police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, said that it could help in some cases or lead to the quick apprehension of an offender.

In January, when Michelle Go, 40, was killed after being pushed in front of a train at the Times Square station, transit officials said there had been six officers assigned to the station, including two who were in the area where Go was pushed.

When Adams was asked on Saturday about homeless people who feel safer on the subway than in the shelter system, he said the city would not “allow people who are a danger to themselves and others to walk our streets”.

“If you are schizophrenic, if you are bipolar, if you are walking the subway system with no shirt on in 20-degree weather, no shoes on, yelling at yourself,” he said, “how do you make that decision that I feel better about being in the subway system?” NYTIMES

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