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Report: Poor Black Brooklynites Most Likely To Be Arrested For Turnstile Jumping

A #SwipeItForward action at the Nostrand A/C station in Crown Heights.
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A #SwipeItForward action at the Nostrand A/C station in Crown Heights. Raphael Pope-Sussman/Gothamist

Half of the people arrested for turnstile jumping in Brooklyn in 2016 were young black men between the ages of 16 and 36, according to a new report from the nonprofit Community Service Society.

While police tend to make more arrests for fare beating in poor neighborhoods across the city, and dispatch more cops to areas with high crime rates, the report's author says that the number one factor in whether a turnstile jumper is arrested is the color of their skin.

"I think what's the most troubling is that even after you account for differences in poverty and differences in criminal activity, you still see disparity in black neighborhoods, compared to a predominantly Hispanic station," said Harold Stolper, a senior economist with the Community Service Society and the report's co-author. "That's when we get into the issues of racialized policing."

Black people make up less than one third of poor adults in Brooklyn, according to the report, but almost two thirds of people arrested for fare evasion are black.

"The arrest rate increases much faster along with poverty in black communities," Stolper says.

Stolper's team analyzed client records from two major public defenders in Brooklyn, the Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services, for all of 2016. In total, 4,054 arrests across the 157 Brooklyn subway stations were reviewed, including the race of the arrestees. The group also reviewed racial breakdowns in each borough census tract.

The top four stations in Brooklyn for fare evasion arrests are near the border of Brownsville and East New York, neighborhoods with highly concentrated black poverty: the Junius Street 3, Atlantic Avenue L, Livonia Avenue L, and Sutter Avenue L stations.

The report also breaks down the number of arrests per 1,000 MetroCard swipes at the stations with the largest poor Hispanic populations, versus stations with the largest poor black populations. At the 53rd Street R station in Sunset Park, located in the Brooklyn census tract with the largest poor Hispanic population, there was one arrest per 100,000 swipes last year. At Junius Street, which has the largest poor black population, there were 10.7 arrests per 100,000 swipes.

Cops are instructed to prioritize repeat offenders and individuals with open warrants for arrest, according to City Hall. NYPD says that 75 percent of people stopped for fare evasion receive a summons, and that both arrests and summonses are trending down citywide: 14,463 arrests this year-to-date compared to 19,312 in the same period last year; 44,708 summonses year-to-date compared to 51,970 for same time period last year.

A recent study from transit reform advocates found that more than a quarter of low-income working New Yorkers were unable to afford subway or bus fare at least once in 2015. Reduce the cost of a subway trip, advocates argue, and City Hall could protect thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers from arrest, fines, imprisonment and, for many, collateral immigration consequences.

Yet Mayor Bill de Blasio recently declined to fund a $50 million pilot program for half-price MetroCards. Instead, he's hitched the concept to a long-shot Millionaire's Tax proposal contingent on State approval. In August, the mayor asserted that turnstile jumping arrests are "not an economic issue."

"They have money on them, so it’s not an economic issue from everything we can see,” de Blasio said in an interview.

In a statement, Austin Finan, spokesman for Mayor de Blasio, said the current administration "has led a dramatic shift away from low-level arrests to offenses that can be more effectively dealt with through summonses." Finan insisted that "only repeat offenders and those with outstanding warrants are subject to arrest for jumping the turnstile."

In the meantime, advocates continue to host city-wide #SwipeItForward events. And earlier this year, District Attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn announced plans to stop prosecuting turnstile jumpers, offering diversion programs instead.

"We're all for decriminalizing, but that's a bandaid," Stolper said. "People are still being issued summonses they can't afford.... We really need a broader action to address the underlying affordability issue."

A spokesperson for the NYPD disputed the report's findings on Monday. "The NYPD assigns its resources within the transit system based on a number of factors, including level of customer activity; crime/quality of life conditions and citizen complaints," the department stated. "When offenses are observed police officers are expected to address them."

A spokesperson for the Brooklyn DA's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Today, the City Council is hosting a hearing on legislation that would require the NYPD to regularly report granular data on fare evasion arrests and summonses, from Queens Councilman Rory Lancman.

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