To pull the emergency brake on subway crime that’s up 56% over last year, our former transit cop mayor, Eric Adams, is ordering police to conduct solo patrols underground. Nevermind the caterwauling from the police unions; it’s about time. The move will stretch the NYPD’s effectiveness, giving straphangers more confidence to ride the trains at a time when worries about personal safety are a big part of what’s holding back the city’s fuller recovery.
Cops’ primary job underground should be to deter and interrupt acts of violence including robberies, shootings, assaults, groping and other behavior that spreads fear. In the process, they can certainly address quality of life violations, like people smoking or harassing fellow straphangers. Though tough-love intervention, in partnership with social-service workers, is appropriate when people are sprawled on benches, the mission here is not to remove people who are homeless, who have a right to ride, but not sleep, in the system.
In an early May poll, 61% of registered city voters said they don’t feel safe riding the trains at night; 86% (including 82% of Black and 86% of Hispanic respondents) said they want more cops in the subways. A late May poll of private-sector employees underscored the worries: 43% ranked personal safety as their top concern when thinking about returning to the workplace, and 31% put it second.
It is true that the subways are safe for the millions who ride them most of the time. It’s also true that cops are not a magical solution to every challenge plaguing trains and platforms. The desperate and destitute people who are there generally need shelter or permanent housing, as well as a range of services, from mental health help to substance abuse interdiction — not handcuffs or a jail cell.
But crime is still rising sharply, and it is a vanishing minority of New Yorkers who, coming home after a late shift, feel less safe because of the presence of a uniformed officer on their train. Protect and serve them.