Op-ed | Fighting crime and keeping NYC’s subways safe

MTA New York City Transit President Richard Davey
MTA New York City Transit President Richard Davey
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

We know safety in the transit system is top of mind for customers. It’s top of mind for all of us at the MTA, too – and under Governor Hochul’s leadership, we’re doing something about it. 

Earlier this month, the Governor unveiled a five-point plan to improve safety underground. It includes surging State personnel into the subways to assist the NYPD, adding new security cameras in conductor cabins, and new legislation to expand the use of transit bans. 

But what I really want to focus on are the final two points of her plan, which address the issues of recidivism and mental health. 

Far too often, crimes in the transit system are committed over and over by the same individuals. NYPD Transit Bureau data shows that 1% of offenders commit 22% of all transit crime. In many of the recent high-profile incidents, the culprits have rap sheets a mile long, with dozens of prior arrests. It is time to close the revolving door.

On Friday, March 15, I met with representatives from all five NYC District Attorney’s offices to discuss what we can collectively do to keep recidivist criminals out of the subway. We are going to work together to create a new early warning system where an offender’s criminal history is noted at the time of arrest and fully considered in charging and bail decisions. 

We’re also exploring legislative changes that would allow repeat offenders on misdemeanor crimes to be charged with a felony offense on subsequent arrests. Our view is simple; those who prey on riders and transit workers must face meaningful justice. 

Equally important is the need to respond to the mental health crisis that is playing out in the subways. We hear from riders consistently in surveys that their number one concern about using mass transit is encountering people with mental health conditions behaving erratically. And I get it – being in an enclosed space while someone is clearly suffering would make anyone uncomfortable.  

That’s why we rolled out a pilot back in January to help these vulnerable New Yorkers get into treatment and out of the transit system. In three months, Subway Co-Response Outreach (SCOUT) teams – which are made up of trained clinicians supported by MTAPD and NYPD officers — have helped dozens of people move to in-patient psychiatric settings. We started with two of those teams, and now with a $20 million investment from Governor Hochul, we’ll have up to 10 more teams. This is encouraging progress.

But I won’t be satisfied until every New Yorker feels safe using transit. Our system is too important to the City and the region to allow the reality and perception of safety – or lack of it – to keep people away. 

Richard Davey is MTA New York City Transit president.