View all Articles
Commentary By Nicole Gelinas

Ignoring Subway Scofflaws Is a Disaster for NYC Safety

Cities, Public Safety, Cities New York City, Policing, Crime Control, Infrastructure & Transportation

Your train is late and overcrowded. But it’s also safe, crime-wise.

You can thank the NYPD for that — and yes, the mayor who oversees the police. But don’t take it for granted. Supposed advocates for the poor want to make it easier for habitual thieves to prey on commuters in the transit system.

Crime was once rampant on the trains. In 1990, 26 people were murdered on the subway. A decade earlier, 14 people died.

This year, no one has been killed. The last year that two people were murdered on the subway was 2008.

“Avoiding too many arrests is good — but good arrests are important.”

The decrease in violent crime didn’t happen by accident. In 1990, transit police started enforcing laws against small crimes, under the theory that someone who was relaxed about stealing from the MTA, and not paying the fare, was also relaxed about harming his fellow passengers for a buck.

That has worked — and still works. Last Wednesday, as The Post’s Daniel Prendergast reported, transit police saw a man walk through the emergency-exit in to the 23rd St. C and E station during the afternoon rush. They stopped him for farebeating.

In most cases, the police would issue a ticket for a civil fine, and let the man go on his way. This year through June, the police stopped 41,011 alleged farebeaters, and only arrested 10,175 on criminal misdemeanor charges.

In addition to a violent past, he’s what’s known as a “transit recidivist” — he’s been arrested for farebeating before. And he was carrying a “large quantity” of pills.
At the police station, cops found something else: a loaded gun in McGee’s sneaker. He had carved up his footwear to hide it.

Ask yourself: Do you want to be on a packed train next to someone with a gun in his shoe?

Cops weren’t surprised to find that a habitual farebeater is a violent criminal. This year through June, they had already taken five illegal firearms off of potentially violent criminals through farebeating stops. Last year, they yielded 11, and the year before, 10.

Three days before police arrested McGee, though, two lawmakers threatened to take away this law-enforcement tool. Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright and state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, both of central Brooklyn, reintroduced their earlier legislation to decriminalize stealing the fare.

Under the bill, “a person who intentionally uses the subway, railroad or bus without payment would no longer be subject to a class A misdemeanor.”

The lawmakers are supported by the Association for Legal Aid attorneys, which noted that people were losing their jobs, housing, and children “all for something as simple as jumping the turnstile in the subway.”

Decriminalization advocates never present specific examples of people who beat the fare once because they were late to church and had their lives ruined.

Of this year’s transit arrests, rather than civil summonses, 45 percent were cuffed because they had beaten the fare before. Another 41.5 percent had an outstanding warrant.

Five percent were wanted for questioning in other criminal cases. An example here was Curtis Batchelor, picked up in March. Cops had long sought him to fulfill a warrant to give his DNA. After he was caught beating the fare, he had to provide it — and was arrested in the rape and murder of his neighbor nearly 20 years ago.

In other words, farebeating is already decriminalized if you’re a first-time offender (or getting caught for the first time). Manhattan DA Cy Vance and acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez recently said they aim to prosecute even fewer farebeaters, excepting only people who pose a risk to public safety.

And, indeed, even before the two district attorneys’ June announcement, farebeating arrests were down 22.3 percent this year. Summonses were down, too, by 10.9 percent.

It’s good to arrest fewer people, as long as crime remains down. But this year, transit crime — not including farebeating — is up 3.9 percent. Robberies are down. But assaults and larcenies are up.

That’s not a crisis. But it’s a reminder that the subways don’t stay safe by themselves.

Avoiding too many arrests is good — but good arrests are important. Even when a repeat farebeater isn’t violent, he is a habitual thief — and needs a deterrent other than a fine. And contrary to what the advocates say, the vast majority of poor people pay their fares.

For these paying customers who have no choice about how to get around, the trains are bad enough without them also having to worry about stepping on someone’s foot and triggering a loaded gun.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Nicole Gelinas is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post