Last weekend, 58 people were arrested during a protest against increased police activity in the subway system. Videos of NYPD officers handcuffing churro vendors and rousting homeless New Yorkers have drawn harsh criticism of the department’s focus on low-level offenses. On Tuesday, 80 separate organizations sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, asking him to cancel his plan for the MTA to hire 500 new police officers, and instead invest the money on improving transit service.

In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, outgoing NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill insisted that while there is a “balance” to policing the subway system, it’s “a very different environment than being on the street.”

O’Neill, who is a former transit police officer himself, will step down this week after more than 36 years at the NYPD, and three years leading the department. Dermot Shea, the current Chief of Detectives, is set to be sworn in as the next commissioner on December 1st.

“It's a closed environment," O'Neill said. "So quality of life is important. Crime is important. Overall crime, index crime, is down in the subway system. Misdemeanor crime is up. So this is something that we have to pay attention to. And this isn't something we pay attention to every week, every month. This is something we pay attention to every day.”

He continued:

I know there's been a couple of high profile incidents of late, of so-called over-policing. You know, instead of criticizing the police, I think there are advocates and elected officials that should take a step forward and help us. You cannot let people do whatever they want in the subway. It’s an inherently dangerous place. Talk about crowding on subways. There's a level of compliance here too. If police officers ask you to do something, you should comply. The subway system is the bellwether for New York City. And I know that as a transit cop, I know that people want to feel safe. And there is a balance, I understand that. But again, if you look at our fare evasion enforcement, our number of arrests have gone way down. Summonses have gone up. You need to control the entry system to the subway. You do. People who are committing crime down there — they're not paying their fare. And we have to make sure we pay attention to that.

You can listen to more of our exit interview with the outgoing commissioner below.