James investigating NYPD over alleged racial bias for fare evasion arrests

A subway rider swipes a MetroCard at a turnstile.

Citing an uneven number of fare evasion arrests for New Yorkers of color, state Attorney General Letitia James announced plans Monday to investigate NYPD’s enforcement methods in public transit.

James pointed to 2015 allegations that the police deliberately targeted minorities in its attempts to waylay fare evasion. The investigation comes as the MTA plans to hire 500 additional police officers to target fare beaters in the transit system, setting aside $250 million for this program in its $51.5 billion budget.

The MTA has said it loses between $200 million to $300 million in revenue annually because of turnstile jumpers avoiding the fare. But James said the critical issue is how the NYPD goes about enforcing fare laws.

“We’ve all read the stories and seen the disturbing videos of men, women, and children being harassed, dragged away, and arrested by officers in our city’s subway system, which is why we are launching an investigation into this deeply troublesome conduct,” said James. “If groups of New Yorkers have been unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin, my office will not hesitate to take legal action.”

In a letter to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, James requested the total number of officers located at stations each day; an overview of any arrangements between the NYPD and the MTA regarding enforcement of fare evasion laws; copies of policies with regard to training NYPD officers to patrol subways; and data on summonses and arrests pertaining to fare evasion, broken down by race and age.

“All MTA customers are entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law,” Ken Lovett, an MTA spokesman said. “Fare evasion is a $300 million annual problem that should be addressed in a way that does not unjustly target any specific group or community. We are committed to assisting the Attorney General with her inquiry in any way we can.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams referenced his years as a cop when explaining his support for James’ investigation which he supports.

James’ office is requesting 8 points of information all together from October 2017 to the present before a deadline of Feb. 10 of this year. The full letter from James’ office can be read here.

“Attorney General James’ investigation into alleged inequitable enforcement of our fare evasion laws is both responsible and responsive to the concerns of communities that have historically suffered from bias-based policing,” Adams said. “As someone who policed this city above ground and below, I know without question that we can make this city safer and do so without leaving people in disgrace. We must all follow the same rules, commuters and cops alike.”

Both the MTA and NYPD were not able to return a request for comment before press time, this story will be updated as their statements become available.