Tensions Over Subway Policing, Race and ‘Arrest Quotas’

Reposted from Kwame Opam, The New York Times

December 9, 2019


(Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)


The demonstrators’ chant echoed through Downtown Brooklyn last month: “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D.”

Tensions have been rising in the [New York City] subway system in recent weeks, with commuters observing and filming what they deem to be the overly aggressive policing of black and Hispanic riders. Some New Yorkers have jumped turnstiles in protest of the arrests of young black men and the handcuffing of a woman selling churros.

In a discrimination lawsuit brought against the Police Department, several officers recently gave sworn statements saying that a commander helping to oversee much of the system in Brooklyn urged officers to target black and Hispanic commuters for low-level offenses.

The department has said its enforcement of fare evasion is not aimed at black and Hispanic people.

[Read more: “I got tired of hunting black and Hispanic people.”]


The details

The commander in question, Constantin Tsachas, was in charge of more than 100 officers between 2011 and 2015. The district he commanded spanned much of south Brooklyn, including the diverse neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Flatbush and Brighton Beach.

According to signed affidavits, which were gathered in the last few months as part of the lawsuit, Mr. Tsachas, who is now a deputy inspector, pressured subordinates to enforce minor violations like fare evasion against black and Hispanic people.

He discouraged them from doing the same with white or Asian people, the affidavits said.

“I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas,” one former officer, Christopher LaForce, said in his affidavit, explaining his decision to retire in 2015.

Inspector Tsachas and the Police Department declined to comment for the article, but his union representative said the inspector denied allegations of misconduct.


The context

Enforcement on the subway has surged over the past year. Police officers issued 22,000 more tickets for fare evasion this year compared with 2018, The Times reported.

Hundreds more officers have also been deployed in the transit system in recent months, sparking debate about overpolicing and the criminalization of poverty. Black and Hispanic people had already accounted for an outsize number of arrests on the subway.

Governor Cuomo has been sharply criticized for the expanded deployment, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is facing a looming financial crisis and struggles to provide reliable subway service.