It’s been a game-changing summer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. With post-pandemic ridership continuing to reach new highs and new high-tech security measures being piloted, the Police Department’s Chief of Transit, Michael Kemper, sat down with amNewYork Metro to discuss the current state of the subway system.
On Friday, Kemper joined Mayor Eric Adams to unveil a new NYPD robot being piloted in one of the city’s busiest subway stations. The new robot, dubbed K5, will be surveilling the Times Square station from midnight to 6 a.m. as part of a two-month trial.
Kemper further disclosed to amNewYork Metro just how K5 is operating.
“[During those hours, K5] is going to be charging in the station, visible to the public,” Kemper said. “Here’s what’s good about that: cameras are still gonna be operational and there’s a button — call it a help button, if you will — that if anyone needs assistance, they push that button, and it connects them to a live operator.”
Reactions to the new R2D2-esque robot have ranged from praise to anger and even indifference, but Kemper strongly believes that the machine will be key when it comes to deterring crime. The chief hopes K5 will offer a portable solution to real-time cries for help, while also being able to gather surveillance that can be used to address crime in the busy station as MTA ridership continues its post-pandemic rebound.
Also on Sept. 22, New York City Transit President Richard Davey announced that some 4 million straphangers rode the city’s subway line that Thursday alone — a record breaking number since March 2020. For Kemper, this new high is, in part, a result of NYPD having officers on patrol and also lowering crime.
“That’s more people than the entire population of Los Angeles using the subway system each day in New York City. That speaks to rider confidence,” Kemper said. “Riders see the improvements, they see the uniformed presence, they feel the crime reduction.”
According to Kemper, subway crime is down 4.5% year-to-date when compared to the same period in 2022 and down 8.1% in comparison to 2019, a pre-pandemic year. But while crime is statistically lower, the perception of crime is higher than ever, the chief said, with some New Yorkers citing false statistics when saying they still avoid the transit system due to safety concerns.
Kemper said that, while there’s still more work to be done, he believes that when one bad crime happens, it rattles riders for a long time to come.
“I don’t want anyone to misinterpret. We’re not raising the flag and claiming victory, we are not naive. We clearly recognize that there’s still a lot of work to do,” Kemper said. “You know, real tragic incidents that occur in a subway system from time to time and it generates a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but that really overshadows the true story of what’s going on.”
Kemper also remarked on the NYPD’s efforts to cuff fare evaders — especially those who are bringing deadly weapons into the subway system. The department maintains that it found a link between those hopping turnstiles and those who are carrying a loaded firearm or have an outstanding warrant.
“They’re bad people, and they’re coming into the system. Some of them are coming into prey on riders and we are stopping them,” Kemper said. “We’re coming up with people carrying guns, we’re coming up with people carrying knives and other weapons. And we’re coming upon people jumping the turnstiles that are wanted for some very, very serious crimes. Just last week we stopped someone for fare evasion and is wanted for attempted murder.”