A ‘simply wrongheaded and cruel policy’: Cuomo and de Blasio announce 500 additional cops for transit system

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In the wake of legislation being passed that would eliminate cash bail, Governor Andrew Cuomo is alarming those in the field of criminal justice with a new policy that will deploy 500 additional police officers to enforce fare evasion.

The loss prevention effort cites an increasing amount of revenue that may be slipping though turnstiles through the last several years, but organizations such as the Legal Aid Society claimed it was a “cruel policy” that targeted the poorest commuters.

Cuomo said the augmented police force on subways and buses will also stem incidences of sexual assault and attacks on MTA employees, but fare evasion was the primary focus of a recent press release.

Referring to the passage of congestion pricing earlier this year, the governor’s office estimates that the amount of revenue lost to fare beaters went from $105 million in 2015 to $225 million in 2018, and continues on trend to a current $243 million.

“This year we succeeded in making historic reforms to the MTA and provided significant new funding streams that will overhaul the system,” Cuomo said. “But the MTA is still plagued by problems of public safety, attacks against transit workers and persistent fare evasion — issues that have only worsened in recent years. This new multi-pronged effort will improve safety on the system overall, protect workers from these incomprehensible assaults, and deter fare evasion by deploying 500 new uniformed officers on our subways and buses. I want to thank the TWU, the NYPD, the MTA and the Manhattan district attorney for their cooperation and partnership to tackle these critical issues.”

Cuomo acknowledged the likely impacts of increasing fare evasion enforcement, namely an increased number of arrests for people who cannot even afford a $2.75 MetroCard swipe. But said the main crux of the plan will focus on preventing fare evasion rather than punishing it after the fact.

The Legal Aid Society also stated that an increased police presence in the transit system would even deter their clients from meeting court obligations and accessing services

“The further criminalization of low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford MTA fare erodes the progress we have made to make New York a more fair and just city,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice. “More officers patrolling subway stations and bus stops will deter our clients from meeting their court obligations and accessing employment, education or other critical services. This is simply wrongheaded and cruel policy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others should bolster the current Fair Fares program to address fare evasion instead of preying pointlessly on the neediest New Yorkers.”

To fund the personnel hike, the New York County District Attorney has committed $40 million over the next four years that will also add video surveillance to fare evasion hot spots.

At a Monday press conference, MTA president Pat Foye explained police will mitigate perceived dangers posed by homeless individuals sleeping in stations, particularly stairwells and crowded platforms claiming that they could cause accidents.

“I think it’s particularly dangerous in a subway environment,” Foye said. “The revenue the MTA loses every day to fare evasion is vital to maintaining and improving out subway and bus network for all New Yorkers. And it’s simply not fair to the 8 million subway and bus customers who do pay their fare everyday.”

Foye added the most fare beaters often enter through the emergency gates in subway stations and enter buses through the back door with no significant deterrence measures.

The effort will place 200 NYPD officers and 300 MTA police at known fare evasion locations. NYPD’s involvement is coupled with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio who announced his agreement with Cuomo on Monday.

“The safest big city in America deserves the safest subways in America,” de Blasio said. “This partnership means more eyes and ears in stations, and more officers for New Yorkers to turn to when they need help. The additional officers we’re deploying to the subway system will protect riders, prevent fare evasion and respond in emergencies.”

New York City Transit president Andy Byford first highlighted the need for more police on board buses in March after discovering high numbers of fare evaders. About $125 million of the $225 million lost in 2018 came from the buses alone, according to Foye.

Foye also added that Fair Fares, a half price MetroCard program funded by the city for low income residents, has over 50,000 enrollees and could be an option to many whom may not be able to swing the $2.75.

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