A Queens Councilman is suing the city and the NYPD, accusing them of flouting a new law requiring the city to reveal detailed demographic information about everyone arrested or summonsed for fare evasion.
Councilmember Rory Lancman, who sponsored the fare evasion data legislation that became law last year, believes the data will confirm that the NYPD's enforcement of fare evasion disproportionately impacts black and Latino men.
Starting this year, the NYPD is required by law to publish quarterly reports breaking down fare evasion-related arrests and summonses by subway station, transit bureau district, and race, sex, and age. Those reports should have been published on January 30th, April 30th, and July 30th, but the NYPD has thus far kept the data to itself. The lawsuit, filed today by Lancman along with the nonprofit Community Service Society of New York [CSSNY] claims the NYPD has provided "no explanation beyond vague assertions that disclosure of the required data could create a risk to public safety."
"The NYPD's excuse for failing to comply with the City Law is incomprehensible, and the balancing of the public safety, anti-discrimination, and transparency interests inherent in the City Law is not for the NYPD to decide," the lawsuit alleges. "The City Council and the Mayor make the laws of New York City, and the NYPD, like every other New Yorker, is bound by those laws."
— (((Rory Lancman))) (@RoryLancman) September 20, 2018
The NY Times reports that police arrested nearly 56,000 people for sneaking onto public transit—whether by hopping turnstiles, entering through open exit doors, or using the back door on the bus—in 2016, according to state data. City Hall argues that fare evasion deprives the MTA of needed funding, but activists say the continual ratcheting up of fares prices low-income people out of the transportation system, which many New Yorkers rely on to get to work, school, pretty much everywhere.
Although the city recently agreed to subsidize half-priced MetroCards for people whose income puts them below the federal poverty line, that measure won't extend to every low-income rider. And research shows that NYPD enforcement of fare evasion continues to disproportionately focus on minorities.
According to research by the Marshall Project, subway arrests dropped off between 2014 and 2017, yet the proportion of black and Latino riders arrested remained unchanged. Subway stations located in communities of color—particularly impoverished communities of color—tend to see the highest numbers of arrests.
De Blasio has expressed skepticism at the idea that poverty drives fare evasion, but we know that people of color are disproportionately the targets of low-level arrests. If the NYPD were to publish more detailed information on who gets taken into custody for turnstile jumping, it seems reasonable to expect we'd see that trend played out once again.
In a statement, City Hall said officials are "working quickly to reach an agreement that satisfies the intent of the legislation without posing a threat to public safety." The mayor's office did not respond to our request for an explanation as to how, exactly, these demographic details would threaten public safety, but we will update if they elaborate.