The subway shooter who gunned down a man taking the Q train to brunch on Sunday was still at large more than 24 hours later despite multiple witnesses to the shooting, an increased police presence in the subways, and an extensive network of surveillance cameras in the transportation system.
Monday morning, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell tweeted just two blurry photos of the suspect, wearing a mask, hoodie, and otherwise indistinguishable clothing that makes it difficult to discern his identity. This is at least the second time in about six weeks that someone has shot a subway passenger in broad daylight, then walked out of a subway station and evaded capture for more than a day.
In a case that so far appears to involve an assailant who did not know his victim, it’s normal for the investigation to take some time, according to a recently retired lieutenant commander of detectives at the NYPD who oversaw similar probes during his career.
“This doesn’t happen in 50 minutes minus commercials,” said Ralph Cilento, now a professor of policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Cilento said officers typically look first into the background of the victim, 48-year-old Daniel Enriquez of Park Slope, to see if he may have been targeted for any reason. And they pull video from witness cell phones, subway surveillance networks, and security cameras from stores near stations where the shooter may have entered and exited.
To Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the watchdog group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, the fact that the shooter has not been apprehended is an indication that such technology is not the crime-fighting tool police and officials have sold it to be.
“We’ve spent billions of dollars installing cameras throughout the MTA system since 9/11 … trying to photograph every person going in and out of a turnstile, and it’s clearly a mess,” Cahn said..
He cited the MTA’s use of a video monitor that’s supposedly intended to stop fare evasion.
“It seems clear that we’ve built a system that is very good at targeting poverty but just awful at preventing violence,” he said. “In a functioning city we would reevaluate our priorities and acknowledge that we’ve made mistakes. But in New York, I’m worried that police and city officials will just double down on this broken surveillance system.”
Cahn cited the fact that after the mass shooting in a Sunset Park subway last month, cameras at the station were not working. “They always say we need to be able to share New Yorkers’ data in real time to respond to a threat,” Cahn said. “But we’ve spent billions, and we don’t have anything better than a blurry image.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment about why there weren’t other photos of the suspect, and whether the cameras inside the Canal Street station, where the shooter disembarked, were working.
Cilento, the former NYPD investigator, said the MTA’s extensive network is outdated and often inoperable. Subway station camera footage is only from a birds-eye vantage point, he said, with images that are grainy because the technology is old.
“Cameras in the New York City subway system are notoriously bad, if they’re working at all,” he said. “These are analog cameras from the early 90s. The camera on your iPhone is a digital camera.”
In Chicago, by contrast, 1,000 HD cameras were installed in the subways in 2019, with “much clearer imagery and much more coverage,” said Walter Katz, who was deputy chief of staff of public safety in the Chicago mayor’s office at the time. “When people know there is a high certainty of getting caught, that in itself can serve as a deterrent.”
Katz — who is now vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, a philanthropy that supports criminal justice policy research — takes the Q train every weekday. “There’s a general unease in the city that the subways are not safe to ride,” he said.
One method of deterring crime is to have civilian customer assistance employees with radios who maintain a presence on trains, Katz said. He also said that additional police, which Mayor Eric Adams has deployed to the trains, can be effective.
“Evidence shows that police presence in crime hot spots has a positive effect in decreasing crime,” he said.
But it makes a difference if officers are actively patrolling the train cars or just rousing unhoused people who are sleeping.
“The bottom line is people want to be able to feel safe,” Katz said. “They’re not necessarily going to feel unsafe if somebody is sleeping on a train. They are going to feel unsafe if somebody is roaming up and down a train car, staring at people, with his hands in his pocket, because they don’t know what’s going to happen next. And what happened [Sunday] is the most tragic example of that.”
As New Yorkers, we unfortunately swallow the pain and move on with our lives ... but I really hope there’s something to be done about safety in the subway.
Madeleine Crenshaw stepped onto the Q train at Canal Street on Sunday and immediately heard panicked screams about a shooter.
“Everyone just started evacuating the subway, we were running up the stairs, somebody kept on saying, ‘He has a gun! He has a gun!’” Crenshaw said. “It was a stampede of people.”
The police were already on the scene when she got to the street. “But I kept running, a few blocks into Tribeca, because I had to get away, we didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “There’s just so many shootings happening lately. The first thing on my mind was whether the weapon was automatic.”
Crenshaw said the Sunset Park subway shooting last month was already on her mind when she took the train. Still, she’ll continue to ride the rails.
“As New Yorkers, we unfortunately swallow the pain and move on with our lives,” she said. “But I really hope there’s something to be done about safety in the subway. As strong as we are as New Yorkers, this shouldn’t become a regular situation.
The former NYPD official, Cilento, said that reports of the shooter pacing the train before attacking indicates he may have a mental illness. That means to locate the shooter, police can look at recent cases from that area of Brooklyn involving emotionally disturbed people to narrow the circle of potential suspects.
He said it’s more difficult to solve a seemingly random targeted shooting, or “an oddball case”, like this one appears to be than, say, the homicide of a gang member. That’s because the universe of potential suspects is far larger in cases like this.
For that reason, Cilento said he doesn’t think the controversial stop-question-frisk method would have prevented the shooting. “It’s very hard to defend against” crimes like this, he said. But it’s still a rare event, and “it’s not something that should keep people up at night.”