While subway ridership has been creeping up as New Yorkers return to work and attempt to create normalcy in their lives, it still remains down more than 70 percent from what it was before the pandemic. Yet the major felonies the NYPD tracks in the subways — rape, murder, felony assault, grand larceny, and burglary — are only down 23 percent compared to the same time last year. Two of the most serious felonies are actually on the rise — murder and rape are currently on track to more than double this year.
And the October transit crime numbers aren’t promising, either. While there were 149 crimes in the subway last month, that’s only a 30 percent drop compared to last year, when there were 213. As of the end of October there have been five rapes in the subway system, compared to three in 2019, and there have been six murders, compared to three last year.
The numbers, while small, are disturbing to MTA officials desperate to prove to New Yorkers that the trains are safe to ride again.
Transit President Sarah Feinberg and Chairman Pat Foye blame the NYPD for what they see as a potentially dangerous rise in crime.
“We need a more effective and significant presence in the subways,” Foye said at last week’s MTA board meeting. He called a massive decline in total arrests “inexplicable and unacceptable.”
In September, there were 152 arrests in the subways compared to 746 in 2019, a nearly 80 percent drop. Total summonses were down nearly 88 percent.
NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea defended the NYPD’s performance and chalked it up to a decrease in ridership.
“You cannot compare what has happened in the past. Obviously, the enforcement is going to be down,” Shea said, speaking on NY1 last week. “We need prosecutors on the same page as us. When enforcement is appropriate and when arrests are made, that they're actually prosecuted.”
The NYPD’s former Chief of Transit, Edward Delatorre, also defended the NYPD and said crime numbers were low ("crime in September dropped by more than half compared to 2019," he said) despite some brazen attacks on riders in broad daylight.
Two such incidents occurred during the morning rush in October — one when a woman was shoved onto the tracks in Times Square, and another when a Brooklyn man was assaulted so badly on a subway platform he had to be hospitalized. The man's grandmother was also hurt during the attack, which according to reports, happened after he asked someone to stop smoking.
Suspects for both incidents are in custody and awaiting formal charges, but Delatorre says he is concerned "about the follow-through... there needs to be a significant and effective means to keep dangerous repeat offenders out of our subway system."
Delatorre was appointed Chief of Labor Relations last week by the NYPD and is no longer in charge of transit. Prior to the move, he had not attended an MTA board meeting for nearly a year. Instead, he’s sent other members of the force, or no one at all. Typically the NYPD provides monthly updates on crime to MTA officials.
Assistant Chief Kathleen O’Reilly has taken over for Delatorre as Chief of Transit, and Feinberg said she expects a member of the NYPD to attend next month’s board meeting.
Former NYPD transit district captain Jim Dooley, who now teaches policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the NYPD should be concerned about the uptick in rapes and murders this year. He thinks with emptier trains and stations, riders are easier targets for criminals.
“It’s true, someone alone in the subway car, especially between tunnels, perfect opportunity to commit a crime,” he said. “And so I think COVID is having a strong and direct effect on this. Easier targets, Isolation. There’s strength in numbers.”
While rapes and murders rose, overall crime in the subways did drop dramatically during the first six months of the year. In January, when ridership levels were normal, and more than 5 million people were riding the trains each day, there were a total of 438 crimes, compared to 192 in June, a 56 percent drop. While significant, the drop was still not commensurate with the 84 percent drop in ridership during that same period.
Convincing the public that subways are safe is crucial to fixing the MTA’s financial crisis. The agency is facing a $12 billion deficit next year and fares account for 38 percent of its revenue.
Officials must not only assure passengers they aren’t going to be infected with COVID-19, they must also reassure them crime is under control.
“Shame on us if we get to a point where we either give up or decide that we’ve reached some level of crime is acceptable, it’s just not,” said Feinberg.