A cry for help: Union seeks more mental health services after three disruptive subway crimes on Wednesday

The MTA reported Monday that subway ridership hit another pandemic high on April 23, 2021, with customers making more than 2.1 million trips that day.
Photo by Dean Moses

Three separate incidents involving emotionally disturbed people caused delays on subways Wednesday, leaving the Transport Workers Union Local 1oo again appealing to Mayor Bill de Blasio for support.

From kicking out windows to people sprinting down the tracks and locking themselves in cabs, the union, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, want mental health professionals in the transit system in order to bring safety to workers and consistent service to riders.

“These incidents highlight the mental illness crisis in the subway, and the need for increased mental health services and uniformed police officers down there. Ask any rider. They get it. Rather than face facts, Mayor de Blasio wants to pretend everything is wonderful. It’s not. More resources are needed to address the worsening situation,” TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said.

In one incident, a rider kicked out two windows of a D train at about 12:50 p.m. on May 5 just outside the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn and leapt to the roadbed of the tracks, TWU stated. Service was suspended for about 40 minutes.

Another man, at about 9 a.m. Wednesday, barricaded himself in the cab of a J train at Broad Street in Downtown Manhattan for about 90 minutes until NYPD Emergency Service Units were able to remove him. Electricity had to be cut to the third rail in case it made it onto the tracks, according to TWU.

Another man said to be banging on the train operator’s door on a No. 4 train at Utica Avenue in Brooklyn leapt between cars to the platform, evading police. This delay lasted about 15 minutes, TWU said.

“Three incidents in less than four hours involving people threatening harm to NYCT employees is a stark reminder of why the City needs to surge essential mental health services and police officers ASAP,” MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said during Wednesday’s press briefing that the city’s shelter system would need to be improved in order to get homeless individuals away from the subways which could be contributing to a feeling of unease among commuters. More cops will be needed in the meantime, according to Cuomo.

“What do [homeless people] say to me, what do they say to the outreach worker? I don’t want to go to a shelter. Shelters are dangerous. I’d rather sleep here on a bench. It’s safer than the shelter system,” Cuomo said in an exchange with a reporter. “I did it in the federal government, visited every state in the United States, and review their shelter system. It is entirely doable… What the MTA is saying is, we need the NYPD in the subways.”

TWU asserts that felony assaults are up 44% from January to April compared to three years ago and they have increased 24% compared to two years ago and 20% over last year. According to NYPD, crimes in transit were down over 10% between April 2020 to 2021.

The debate over whether or not the subway needs more cops or not came to the forefront of the MTA’s April board meeting in which NYPD Transit Chief Kathleen O’Reilly saw little need for a major surge in NYPD presence, as seen in February, due to declining crime rates.

Agency officials, namely interim NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg, who said regardless of the actual crime numbers, riders reported feeling unsafe in a recent survey. That should be enough to bring in more NYPD officers if riders are to return to the system after the COVID-19 pandemic stripped them of their ridership by over 90%.

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