For a decade, an NYPD plain-clothed unit has seamlessly blended in with Brooklyn commuters, riding along with them while looking to stop crime — and amNewYork Metro was given a glimpse into their undercover operation.
According to Sergeant Jovanny Calderon, the Public Safety Unit focuses on combatting quality-of-life crimes within the transit system, such as stopping individuals who are smoking or drinking alcohol on the platforms and in train carriages, while also catching fare evaders hopping the turnstiles. They also keep a keen eye out for wanted criminals.
During the ride-along, the unit members weaved their way between commuters, riding subway trains and inspecting both subway platforms and entrances, with little notice from the other straphangers. Calderon is the only visible team member that you will see here; the other members’ faces are not shown to protect their anonymity.
On Jan. 10, amNewYork Metro sat in on a roll call meeting at Transit District 30 inside the Hoyt/Schermerhorn Street Station. Here, Sgt. Calderon briefed his team on their mission for the evening’s shift, which included seeking several knife-wielding suspects.
“We had a slashing. It was a fight first, and then unfortunately, the fight turned very violent, and somebody got injured,” Sgt. Calderon explained.
Police say that particular incident took place on New Year’s Day at the Fulton Street station, where six men got into a verbal dispute with a 23-year-old man. The victim was stabbed and slashed in the neck and head before he was rushed to Brooklyn Hospital; he was released after treatment.
After roll call, amNewYork Metro trailed behind Calderon and his squad as they scoured the transit system for the wanted men, and others causing problems within the subway system.
It’s one thing to stop a wanted assailant; it’s another to urge a straphanger to put out a cigarette or stop drinking booze. How do the cops handle a situation not as grave as stopping a potentially armed and dangerous individual?
“First, we identify ourselves due to safety because obviously the train is still moving. We take the person off the train, and they can be issued a citation, sometimes they can be arrested, or sometimes they can be given a warning,” Calderon said.
According to Calderon, his team looks for suspicious behavior such as those lingering too long and not boarding a train when it pulls into the station.
Calderon ended the evening by having his team post up outside of the turnstiles and watch for those skipping out on the fare. It did not take long before the cops spotted a couple attempting to sneak into the Hoyt/Schermerhorn Street Station without paying. The officers quickly pounced, checked their IDs before letting them off with a warning.
For the Public Safety Team, this element of surprise is their biggest ally, in terms of both aiding straphangers and catching criminals. Their ability to blend into a crowd, Sgt. Calderon says, should both reassure the public and put lawbreakers on notice.
“To our riders and our criminals, you’re not gonna know but we usually are on the train. You may not know who we are, but we are there,” Calderon said.