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The MTA Is Hiring 500 New Cops To Fix 'Quality Of Life' Issues In The Subway System

An MTA police graduation ceremony in 2016.
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An MTA police graduation ceremony in 2016. Patrick Cashin / MTA

The MTA says it will hire 500 new transit police officers, after Governor Andrew Cuomo complained about “quality of life” issues on the subway.

“A customer has a right, a rider has a right not to be harassed, not to be threatened, not to be subjected to intolerable conditions,” Cuomo said at an unrelated event on Tuesday. “They paid their fare they have rights too. They should feel safe it should be clean and it should be comfortable and it should be on time.”

Cuomo’s comments come around two months after he directed the MTA to solve the issue of homelessness in the subway system.

"I've never seen it this bad," Cuomo said in July. "Let's actually focus on helping the homeless, rather than political posturing.” (The governor has not taken a ride on the subway since December 31, 2016.)

The hiring will nearly double the number of MTA police, which currently stands at 783, and comes after the agency deployed 500 existing officers in June, taking both transit and NYPD off their other beats to crack down on what it said was an increasing fare evasion and assault on workers problem.

The Transport Workers Union Local 100 recently claimed there’s been a 39 percent increase in assaults on transit workers, amid ongoing contract negotiations. The union also claims 81 car cleaner positions have been cut through attrition in recent years.

“The MTA is hiring 500 additional MTA Police officers to bolster the resources in the system to ensure the safety of the riding public as well as our workers. Assaults on our customers and workers are completely unacceptable,” a spokesperson for the MTA told Gothamist/WNYC.

The transit authority is in the midst of finalizing its next capital plan, which is expected to contain a costly roadmap for how to use congestion pricing funds to upgrade signals and make the system accessible. It’s also headed toward costly deficits and has already warned of possible service cuts soon.

“The governor should be focused on averting those service cuts while we fix the subway and implement congestion pricing, Danny Pearlstein policy and communications director for Riders Alliance. “What money is available to the MTA should certainly be devoted to running more and better service.”

Good government group Reinvent Albany notes that the city already pays more than 2,500 NYPD officers to patrol subways and buses.

“Meanwhile, the MTA is cutting train cleaning jobs, which is leading directly to trains being pulled out of service and subway delays. If the MTA needs better performance, it should get those 2,500 NYPD transit cops to do their jobs instead of wasting scarce transit dollars almost doubling the size of the MTA police force,” Reinvent Albany wrote in a statement. “This proposal to hire huge numbers of new MTA cops while basic subway and bus operations are being cut is a bad joke of government dysfunction, waste and cluelessness."

Hiring new officers could take between 8 months and three years or more, according to the MTA’s website. Although the MTA said if an officer makes a lateral move from another police force it could be quicker.

Salaries for MTA transit police officers start at $42,000, and go up to $100,368 after seven years. The MTA says Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has agreed to fund the 500 new officers for the first four years, from a $40 million pool of money.

"I very much welcome DA Vance's intervention here that will provide the funding that will allow us to recruit these additional officers so it's effectively funded," New York City Transit President Andy Byford said on Thursday. Byford acknowledged that these officers can only do so much to address the homeless population "There must be a hand over to trained city personnel who will properly convey homeless people to an appropriate place whether that be a hostile or a hospital depending on their needs."

MTA police, traditionally, were deployed at the bridges and tunnels. According to the MTA, its police force is the fourth largest accredited police force in New York State, after the New York State Police, Suffolk County and Rochester County Police Departments. MTA police operate separately from the NYPD but are in coordination, according to the MTA.

The governor and Transit President Andy Byford have said on multiple occasions that riders shouldn’t be subjected to dirty stations and subway cars.

“The MTA is responsible for its property. They're not responsible for the homeless problem but they are responsible for protecting people on their property and their responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations,“ Cuomo said.

Advocates for the homeless and low income New Yorkers say the MTA is criminalizing poverty by cracking down on fare evaders and the homeless.

As for fare evasion, the NYPD has released some statistics, but it doesn’t include the racial breakdown of people who receive tickets. The MTA claims it lost $215 million in 2018 from fare evasion.

As for the so-called increasing number of homeless people, the way the city calculates the number is a census conducted on one of the coldest nights of the year. While 2019 did show a 23 percent increase in homeless people in the subway, the overall unsheltered population actually decreased a little from 2018 and 2019.

Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, doesn’t think the situation in the subways has reached a “crisis” point that would require hiring 500 officers.

“Crime on the subway is flat from the Bloomberg years. Many of the problems people encounter—people with untreated mental illness, people essentially living on the subways with all of their belongings—aren't going to be solved by more aggressive policing,” Gelinas wrote in an email. “They require some sort of long-term mental-health strategy, including, possibly, involuntary commitment and treatment for people who cannot take care of themselves.”

Gelinas added that there is “a lot unanswered” in the MTA’s plan to hire more officers.

“What hours will they work? Will they be writing farebeating tickets and/or making farebeating arrests? How will they approach panhandling undertaken by people who aren't obviously mentally ill?”

This story has been updated to include details on how the Manhattan DA will be funding the new officers, and comments from NYCTA president Byford.

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