Governor Andrew Cuomo is a very busy man, and his preferred mode of transportation is helicopter or motorcycle with Billy Joel. He claims he's not in charge of the MTA except when he shuts down the subway or takes the MTA's money to pay down other state needs. He's been on a subway a handful of times (and on a bus upstate this one time!) for photo ops. But now he's taken a personal interest in a longtime problem that subway riders, especially female subway riders, are regularly forced to endure: Subway perverts.
On Monday, NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Joseph Fox testified at the MTA's monthly NYC Transit meeting about various subway crime statistics, and took the opportunity to highlight how reports of sexual offenses on the subway are up by over 50% this year (431 for 2016 so far, up from 275 in the same period last year). But, Fox stressed, this was due to increased efforts from NYPD plainclothes transit officers, as well as subway public service advertisements urging riders to report mass transit sexual misconduct to police or through the MTA's website:
Doubling down on our efforts to encourage reporting has helped us document and follow up on crimes that would otherwise have gone unreported. As a result in several cases our investigators have pieced together enough information to make arrests and in many more we have been able to gather photos of the perpetrators or other critical leads that make a future arrest likely.
I want to be clear, there is no indication that there are more sex offenses occurring in our subways, rather our efforts are having the desired effect. Crimes that would previously go unreported because victims were embarrassed, intimidated, or lacked the confidence that the case would be taken seriously are now being documented and fully investigated. Our teams are catching more sex offenders in the act and more women are coming forward knowing that we are committed to aggressively pursuing each criminal complaint.
This is similar to the argument that an increase in reported sexual assaults doesn't necessarily represent a rise in actual crime, but may in fact be the result of more outreach to encourage victims and hospitals to report it.
Subway perverts are nothing new. I still vividly remember an incident from 17 years ago during the Giuliani years, when a man asked me for the time while we waited in a 2 train car at the 14th Street 1/2/3 station. It was a Saturday night, when the MTA was doing track work, so a northbound car was waiting in the southbound tracks, and we were the only two people in that car. I was sitting next to the door and he was standing in the doorway, and when I turned to tell him the time, I was confronted by his erect penis, inches from my face, his hands stroking it. I quickly fled and looked for another train car with more people on it. I started crying when I finally made it home.
Then there was the time a few years ago when I was taking the train home: It was a packed 2 train, so I thought the man behind me was just being jostled around—but then I noticed two women looking at me with alarmed expressions and realized that the man was actually rubbing himself against me. I got out at my station and told an MTA worker who directed me to a police officer outside. The cop listened to me, but then said, "Well, he didn't really touch you. We can't do anything about that."
Governor Cuomo, possibly reacting to the NY Post's headline, Subway sex crimes are increasing at an alarming rate, issued this open letter to the MTA yesterday:
Dear Chairman Prendergast,
Protecting the safety and security of its riders is the MTA’s most sacrosanct obligation. However, recently released statistics indicate that reports of sexual offenses on the subway system have increased by more than 50 percent compared to last year. This is completely unacceptable. We cannot and will not allow these crimes to persist.
I recognize that MTA has been working to address this issue head on, encouraging victims to report assaults and making it easier for them to do so. Those actions may be a start, but they are not enough.
Effective immediately, I am ordering the MTA to take all steps available to strengthen patrols in the subway system, including the use of more plainclothes officers to crack down on this sort of depraved behavior, and to work directly with the NYPD’s Transit Bureau to reassure riders and enforce the rule of law in light of these disturbing statistics.
The state recently approved the largest budget in the MTA’s history. We are investing in the MTA’s assets and safety is job one. New York State has zero tolerance for these despicable crimes. The safety, health and welfare of the millions of residents and tourists who travel the subway system is of paramount importance and we will accept nothing less.
ANDREW M. CUOMO
This is timely pandering, but Cuomo is laughably late to the issue. Where was Cuomo's concern when a subway rider showed a train conductor this gross video of a man masturbating in 2012 (the largely indifferent conductor told her, "Oh, wow")? Or last fall, when a woman only got a subway masturbator arrested after she posted it to Instagram? Did no one ever show Cuomo this viral video from 2010 of a woman yelling at a man who took his penis out on a train?
Cuomo's sudden involvement is especially rich, given that his idea of funding the MTA is to, essentially, create a "debt bomb."
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz responded to Cuomo's letter thus: "One sexual assault is one too many. The MTA takes this issue seriously. We understand the Governor’s directive and are committed to using all available MTA resources and working with the NYPD’s Transit Bureau to end these types of crimes against riders."
The NYPD did not officially comment on the governor's umbrage, but a department source told the Post today that the letter seems political at best, "It’s suspicious. At face value it strikes me as a De Blasio vs. Cuomo thing. Don’t get me wrong, we work splendidly with the MTA, but we have our turf and they have theirs. It smells of Cuomo creating the appearance that NYC can’t handle things. Even if sex crimes are up a little, we’ve had far worse problems in the past that never got this response."
Yes, the NYPD has a lot of work to do in terms of educating its officers about handling complaints of subway sexual misconduct. The MTA and Transit Workers Union could also encourage employees/members to take victims' and witnesses' complaints seriously, too. But the MTA's website for reporting incidents is an effective tool—I've heard feedback from victims who say that detectives have contacted them.
So, Governor Cuomo, thank you for signing a law to increase penalties for subway grinders. And thank you for yesterday's bossy and politically opportunistic letter to the MTA, but don't act like this is some new problem. The subway has been a cesspool of sexual deviancy and abuse the entire time you've been in office, and long before that. It shouldn't take a facile NY Post headline to get you to care.