NYC subway assault spike being addressed by change in tactics, police say

The NYPD’s transit chief is maintaining that a recent rise in subway assaults, especially around Manhattan, is under control, but the spike has some questioning the validity of the Broken Windows style of policing embraced by the department’s Commissioner Bill Bratton.

In Manhattan, there were 45 felony assaults underground this year through May 31, a 114% increase from that same time period last year. Citywide, there were 99 felony assaults in the subways during the same time period, a 26.9% increase.

The assault statistics were first reported by the Daily News and confirmed by Joseph Fox, chief of NYPD’s Transit Bureau.

“In policing we will have spikes from time to time and our job is to address them,” Fox said. “We have a handle on this. We’re addressing it.”

Fox cautioned that when put into perspective, the crime numbers are relatively small, and said the situation is under control. He noted that there’s an average of six major crimes per day in the subway system, which is far fewer than the 23 per day from 20 years ago.

Further, there have been 915 reported crimes in total in the subway this year, only 10 more than last year, according to the mayor’s office.

There have been two notable attacks this week: in the first, a transgendered woman was pushed onto the tracks in the Bleecker Street station by the No. 6 train. And a European tourist was slashed while riding the A train in Brooklyn on her way to the airport.

Fox touted the effectiveness of Broken Windows-style policing in the subways in which smaller, quality of life crimes are targeted. He said there have been 15 gun seizures this year, six of which came from a quality of life-related stop.

Fox said the assaults are not gang related, and are often rather “a bump” or “a stare” that turns violent. He said the NYPD needs more in the ranks to combat the issue, and is currently moving officers around to the most dangerous areas and utilizing overtime to hamper it.

Fox declined to specify stations or subway lines that have had the highest increase.

Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective who lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Broken Windows can work, but many cops feel powerless to enforce it.

“The bad guys listen to the news,” Giacalone said. “The cops are caught in this Catch-22. The cops are stuck in the middle between bad politics and the policing that they have to do.”

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has been vocal about wanting to hand out tickets for petty crimes, like public urination, rather than arrest someone.

A spokesman for the mayor, meanwhile, said “Our subway systems sees more than 5 million rides a day and averages less than seven crimes a day.

“New York City subways are safer than ever, crime remains virtually unchanged this year, and the NYPD is vigilant about enforcing transit crime,” he added.

Giacalone agreed that the numbers are relatively small compared to the 1980s and 1990s, but said most people have a short memory.

“The perception of crime is more important than the actual numbers,” he said. “That’s what the police department is really fighting is the perception that crime is going on everywhere.”

Josh Boreman, 25, takes the A train every day from his house in Bedford Stuyvesant to his job in midtown. While he was skeptical of Broken Windows, Boreman said he isn’t going to stop riding the subway anytime soon.

“I’m not concerned,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s at the point where it’s more than isolated incidents.”

Paula Ewin, 59, has lived in the East Village since the late 1980s and said she isn’t happy about any rise in crime.

“Am I nervous? No, but we must be vigilant,” said Ewin, an actress. “I’m not really worried, but I’m also not a fool.

“But I don’t feel personally threatened,” she added.

(With John Ambrosio)