After the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced in September that it will hire 500 new transit police officers to enforce “quality of life” issues on the subway, alarm bells rang out among civil liberty and criminal justice reform advocates.
Because the new MTA police officers are not considered members of the NYPD, they are exempt from wearing body cameras, Gothamist reported.
Corona state Senator Jessica Ramos tackled this gap in police accountability on Oct. 24 by introducing a bill that would require MTA police officers to wear body cameras capable of both audio and video recording.
“It is imperative that all law enforcement officials abide by the same standards when actively patrolling members of our communities. Body cameras are an effective tool for ensuring transparency and guaranteeing interactions between police officers and every day New Yorkers are recorded,” Ramos said in a statement.
In March, the NYPD announced that all uniform patrol officers in the city would be equipped with body-worn cameras. Ramos’ bill would amend the public authorities law, which recognizes MTA police officers as subject to the same jurisdictional provisions as other members of the police force, which include wearing a body camera while monitoring the Transit Authority.
Still, other progressive state legislators pointed out that the body cam issue is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increased subway policing. Bushwick state Senator Julia Salazar argued on Twitter that the deeper issue is that pursuing fare evasion criminalizes poverty.
This is definitely the right question. I understand why people see value in body cameras, but the city’s policy on how BWC’s are used and access to the footage totally undermines accountability and their purpose. We just need to stop criminalizing fare evasion.
— Julia Salazar (@JuliaCarmel__) October 21, 2019
Back in January, Assemblyman Dan Quart unveiled a bill that would seek address this criticism by amending the public authorities law to make the maximum penalty for fair evasion no greater than a $2.75 fair.
“Prosecuting a New Yorker for theft of services in the amount of $2.75 is the definition of criminalizing poverty. New Yorkers who are arrested for turnstile jumping face a criminal record, ruined job prospects, immigration consequences and the loss of parental rights. Even more alarming – almost 92% of those arrested were people of color,” states Quart’s bill.
The bill did not make it past the Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions last legislative session.
In response to Ramos’ legislation, the MTA has stated that it is in favor on implementing the cameras.
“We intend to pursue the use of body cameras, which are a valuable policing tool, for all MTA officers and we have been bargaining on this important issue with our labor union about implementation,” said MTA Communications Director Tim Minton.