Ride rage: NYC Transit workers assaulted 1,100 times in six months, union pushes for more cops

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NYPD on an uptown A train on Feb. 14, 2021.
Photo by Mark Hallum

What did they do to deserve this?

New York City Transit workers on subways and buses were assaulted, spit at, menaced or harassed about 1,088 times in the last six months, according to MTA data — leading the union representing them to call for cops in more strategic parts of the system.

The NYC Transit Committee Book provides some details on the incidents and Transport Workers Union Local 100 says this is cause for an increased police presence not at turnstiles where fare beating takes place, but on platforms and rolling stock where employees get the most amount of grief.

“Riders and transit workers are safer, and feel safer, when they see uniformed police officers on platforms and trains — and buses. Transit workers are sick and tired of being attacked and menaced. If a cop doesn’t deter criminal behavior at least he or she is there to arrest the individual,” Local 100 President Tony Utano said. “We don’t need police at the turnstiles. We need them on the platforms, trains and on buses.”

The MTA has revived its effort to hire 500 new cops in effort to get some members of the public to walk a straight line after a hiring freeze, due to the pandemic, was put in place throughout the course of 2020. This came in light of attacks on four homeless New Yorkers that led to the deaths of two individuals in February.

At that time, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced a surge of 500 NYPD uniformed patrols in the subways, but MTA officials asked for 1,000.

The riding public seems to concur that the subways feel less safe than they used to.

A recent survey conducted by the MTA found that fewer and fewer commuters are uneasy riding the trains, with 72% of regular riders reporting feeling very concerned with crime and harassment as of late. On trains themselves, the public noted satisfaction with crime and harassment decreasing by 16.4 percentage-points to 26%, with 47% dissatisfied.

“Our customer survey data could not be more clear: Concerns over safety are top of mind for current riders, and for those looking to return to transit,” MTA spokesperson Abbey Collins said. “An overwhelming majority of 76% of customers say seeing a uniformed presence in the system makes them feel safer. We know that if our riders feel safe from crime and safe from COVID, they will come back to transit and back to the city – and we are throwing every resource at continually tackling these issues to keep breaking ridership milestones day after day as New York reopens.”

Proposals for an increased police presence, however, has been loudly opposed by many New Yorkers who made their voices known in January 2020 upon the MTA board vote to hire the additional cops. Among the reason for hiring the officers for the MTA was to stem fare evasion, which struck a sore note for those who see enforcement of this crime as targeting specifically low income black and brown New Yorkers.

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