The city completed its rollout of body cameras on all uniformed patrol officers earlier this year, but hundreds of new cops deployed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop fare evasion and homelessness in the city's subway system will not be required to wear the devices.
This past summer, after the governor raised a fuss about a reported uptick in fare-beating, the MTA temporarily diverted more than 400 police officers from commuter trains and the Bridges and Tunnels division into the subway. Those officers will soon be replaced by 500 new state police officers that the MTA is currently in the process of hiring—at a cost of roughly $663 million over the next decade.
Neither of those groups are required to wear body cameras, an MTA spokesperson confirmed, because the new cops are not part of the NYPD.
"It's certainly something we're concerned about," Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Gothamist. "We support body cameras by law enforcement, so long as they have the right bodies in place to ensure transparency and accountability."
The group has repeatedly called on the governor to increase video accountability for state cops. A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that New York is lagging behind the rest of the country in camera usage, and is one of just five states in which the primary law enforcement body is not required to use dash cams.
The increasingly visible presence of MTA officers inside subway stations has sparked backlash from some advocates, who say the show of force is primarily aimed at criminalizing poverty. A guerilla poster campaign condemning the crackdown recently appeared at several stations, and a Twitter account called Unfare NYC has begun sharing crowd-sourced updates on the officers' locations.
The camera-less cops also come at a time when the MTA is embracing video monitoring as a tool to crackdown on homeless people seeking shelter inside the system. More than 100 live camera feeds are now in place at subway stations, which cops can monitor 24 hours a day.
A 60-year-old woman spotted by cameras on a subway bench—who had a bed in a homeless shelter—was recently arrested, after cops responded to the scene and found she had an open warrant, according to The City.
Asked whether the MTA was concerned about sending cops onto the subway without body cameras, even as the agency is increasingly focused on surveillance, an MTA spokesperson said they were "in discussion with the MTA PBA about implementation" in the future.
Neither the MTA police union nor the Governor's Office responded to Gothamist's inquiries.
"We in theory support MTA police having body cameras," added the NYCLU's Sisitzky. "But the bigger question is: why are we adding 500 new officers to the subway system to begin with? There are better ways to invest MTA resources than pouring more money into new cops."