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Hiring 500 More Police Officers for the Subway Is a Misuse of Funds

The M.T.A. is spending millions to add officers while it faces serious financial problems.

Reposted from The New York Times Editorial Board

December 20, 2019

New York Police Department Transit Bureau police officers at the 125th Street station.

(Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)

Subway crime remains at record-low levels.

So it was confusing that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted this week to hire 500 additional police officers to patrol the subway and other parts of the transit system, diverting an estimated $250 million over four years in precious funds that should go toward improving service.

While more than 2,500 New York City police officers now patrol the subways, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and M.T.A. officials have said the transit authority needs to add hundreds of their own officers because of an increase in crime and quality of life problems. The facts don’t bear that out.

Serious crime is down more than 4 percent from last year, according to the New York City police. Felony assault complaints are down, as are grand larcenies. Though robbery complaints are up roughly 10 percent, that represents an additional 46 robberies. There have been three murders and three rapes — six horrific crimes too many, but also evidence that a system used by millions every day is impressively safe.

Though Mr. Cuomo and M.T.A. officials have argued that misdemeanors are on the rise, the preliminary findings of an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school found that their number has been roughly the same over the past seven years, Politico reported.

In an op-ed in The New York Post last month, then-Commissioner James O’Neill noted that the chance of being the victim of a serious crime in the subway is about one in a million.

Patrick Foye, the M.T.A. chairman and chief executive, said in an interview on Friday that about half the 500 officers would patrol the subways; some would be assigned to the system’s commuter rails and elsewhere. Still, it’s hard to understand why the financially strapped M.T.A. would be hiring so many officers while it has been weighing service cuts, and while New York City police already patrol the subway. The Riders Alliance, a public transit advocacy group, found that the cost of adding police could instead be used to increase midday and weekend service by 15 percent.

Adding hundreds of officers to the transit system without good cause could also lead to the sort of over-policing of black and Hispanic boys and men that the city has seen before. Already, between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic people made up more than 90 percent of those arrested on charges of fare evasion.

The crackdown on fare evasion has led to troubling interactions between the police and the citizens they serve. In one case, four officers arrested a woman selling churros, raising questions about policing priorities. In other cases, videos have emerged of groups of officers using aggressive policing tactics inside subway cars and stations.

Adding more officers to the nearly 800-member M.T.A. police force to patrol the subways is, in some ways, even more problematic, since they will work for a state-controlled authority that is less accountable to average New Yorkers. M.T.A. officers are not required to wear body cameras, for example.

It was these concerns that drove protesters to interrupt an M.T.A. board meeting Wednesday. “Don’t do it!” one protester shouted at board members, while being led out of the room. “Stop brutalizing our black and brown neighbors!”

The hiring of these officers is not just a misuse of funds. It’s a blow to the fragile public trust that officials had finally earned in their promising efforts to turn around New York’s subway system.

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