New York state and city officials are bolstering their efforts to combat crime and mental illness in New York City’s subway system with an increased police presence and new training for officers on engaging with homeless individuals.
Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke at a news conference Saturday about the plans to increase subway safety, alongside New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair and CEO Janno Lieber.
In recent weeks, Hochul has been hammered by Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, over public safety. The gubernatorial election is just over two weeks away, on November 8.
The new initiatives will include a significant investment from the state’s public emergency fund to support a surge of roughly 1,200 additional overtime officer shifts on subway platforms and trains each day. However, officials did not say how much money the city will receive as part of the investment.
The transit authority will also employ unarmed security guards at turnstiles to increase security presence and deter fare evasion, Hochul said.
“We have a crime fighting strategy,” Hochul said during the news conference. “We’ve leaned into proven law enforcement strategies, investing in new technologies that will make a difference. And we’re providing New Yorkers the support and the help they need. Here’s what we’re calling it: ‘Cops, Cameras, Care.’ “
Transit police officers will be deployed at four major commuter railroad hubs, including Penn Station, Grand Central Station, Atlantic Terminal, and Sutphin-Archer (Jamaica) Station, which will free up roughly 100 NYPD officers for deployments at other transit locations, according to a joint news release.
New York City has been reeling from several high-profile violent crimes in the past few months, including in its subway system, prompting officials to enhance their crime fighting strategies. Adams announced Friday his administration will host a “high-level summit” at Gracie Mansion, which is the official residence of New York City’s mayor, on Saturday and Sunday to discuss solutions to crime in the city.
“New Yorkers must be able to ride the subway system with confidence that they are protected from crime, harassments and threats and this is what we are zeroing in on,” Adams said during the news conference.
In September, Hochul announced an initiative to install two cameras in every subway car by 2024 to strengthen security coverage. The city has already installed more than 200 cameras across the system and is set to install an additional 100 cameras in the coming days, the governor said.
The governor said Saturday train conductors will inform riders when they are approaching a station where officers are present.
Earlier this year, Adams and Hochul unveiled a joint initiative to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system which will expand response teams of health, police and community officials across the city.
As part of the ongoing efforts to address the homeless population sheltering in the subway system, the New York State Office of Mental Health will create two new 25-bed units by November 1 as part of a new treatment program to help people experiencing serious mental health issues, officials said.
The units will provide recovery-focused treatment and be staffed by doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, and other clinical and nonclinical personnel, according to the joint news release.
The initiative includes the creation of a Community Residential Step-Down Program by the Office of Mental Health, which will support people who are being discharged from the units as they transition back into society.
“The omnipresence of police officers and the removal of those who are dealing with mental health issues is crucial to our second phase of this important plan,” Adams said during the news conference.
The state is also expanding crisis intervention training for transit and city police officers as well as paramedics, to include best practices for engaging homeless people and how to transport those in need of a psychiatric evaluation.
“This training will incorporate the best practice for engaging the street and subway homeless population, helping officers better understand the problems they are facing and how to deal with them, so they can de-escalate and ensure people get the help they need,” Hochul said during the news conference.
As of last Monday, crime in the city’s subway system is up more than 41% with 1,813 incidents happening so far this year, up from 1,282 during the same time period last year, according to New York Police Department statistics.
Nine homicides took place in the city’s subway system so far this year, officials said, and 40% of those responsible for the homicides had a history of mental health issues.
“This is our focus. Dealing with people who have mental health issues must be a focus of any plan moving forward,” Adams said.
While these numbers are high, they are compared to 2021 and 2020 when subway ridership was decimated by the pandemic, which forced the vast majority of the subway ridership to stay home.
Subway ridership has been a major component when it comes to the analysis of crime on the subway. Since the pandemic hit, ridership saw massive declines but has been steadily increasing.
Subway ridership has hit its highest levels since the pandemic struck, with an average of over 3.5 million straphangers on a weekday and having anywhere from 3.6 million to 3.8 million riders the past few weeks. That’s roughly 70% of the 5.5 million rider average before the pandemic hit, according to transit authority statistics.
In 2019, the year before Covid-19 gripped the city, there were 1,893 crimes from January 1 into October, and there were 2,524 crimes during the whole year, according to police statistics.
The highest number of transit crimes since the police started tracking crime statistics was recorded in 1999, a total of 3,524 crimes from January into October, city data shows.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of New York City’s Police Benevolent Association, the union representing the largest number of officers in the country, said the plan announced by Hochul and Adams on Saturday is “unsustainable.”
Lynch said the police department is more than 1,000 officers below its budgeted headcount and has 12.45% fewer rank-and-file officers permanently assigned to the subways than it did in 2020.
“The increased workload is crushing the cops who remain,” his statement continued. “The answer is not to squeeze them for more forced OT. It’s not to pass off responsibilities to the better-paid but smaller MTA Police Department. And it definitely isn’t replacing them with unarmed security guards.”
Lynch said the city must increase pay and improve working conditions in order to recruit and retain enough police officers to fight crime in the subway system.