‘The math is simple. In a time when less people are riding the subway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crime is more likely to occur due to the lack of potential eyewitnesses and brave New Yorkers present as psychological and physical deterrents.’

empty nyc subway car

Adi Talwar

An empty car on a northbound 6 train on March 18, 2020.

In December, Ruth Leon-Villegas was waiting for a Manhattan train when a man pounced on top of her and threw her into a metal column, fracturing her neck, knocking her unconscious and sending her to the hospital. 

This attack was just one in a long succession of alarming subway crimes that occurred in 2020 — as the Transit Bureau reported that subway crime was up 34 percent from 2019, with robbery more than doubling. 

While certain subway crimes like turnstile jumping and grinding decreased during the citywide lockdown due to a significant reduction in ridership, these recent attacks have been part of an alarming trend of violent activity on our trains—including homicide, felony assault, robbery and rape—that has surpassed 2019’s figures.

One thing is clear: We must hire at least 500 additional police officers to help protect a transit system that accommodates more than a million rides daily.

This issue isn’t political. It’s about public safety. Providing more transit officers is a common sense way to ensure New Yorkers are safer on their way to and from work.  The goal is not to increase arrests, but rather to allow commuters the peace of mind to securely use our transit system and persist through these difficult times without continuously fearing for their lives.

The Leon-Villegas incident wasn’t isolated either. Just a month earlier, two people were pushed on the tracks in the span of just three days—both suffering injuries. And earlier this month, an emotionally disturbed, naked man was electrocuted on the third rail in Harlem after shoving a man on the tracks and trying to prevent him from being rescued.

That’s why we need to employ our best judgement and bolster our underground police presence.  

The idea of additional police has worked for New York in the past. In November, we lost former Mayor David Dinkins, who was a trailblazer in subway crime prevention. His Safe Streets, Safe City program added 6,000 police officers—a 54 percent increase of officers on patrol in our transit system daily. From the beginning of his term to the end, major crime fell 14 percent, with murders dropping 12 percent. 

As a lifelong New Yorker who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I know the great strides we’ve made as a city in reducing subway crime. Make no mistake, those strides are a testament to the measures put in place to reduce the threat of violence.  

The math is simple. In a time when less people are riding the subway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crime is more likely to occur due to the lack of potential eyewitnesses and brave New Yorkers present as psychological and physical deterrents.

If we want to make sure our small and large businesses are allowed to survive and eventually thrive through these troubling times, that neighborhoods hustle and bustle as they did before the pandemic, and that revenues collected from industries like food service and the arts once again fund our city’s depleted coffers, the safety of our neighborhoods and our workforce must be a paramount goal.  

Some may argue that hiring more police officers is a misuse of funds that should be put toward service enhancements, but public safety should always be our top priority as we do all we can as a municipality to make sure chaos does not befall us as it once did in less prosperous times. 

It is also essential that this initiative be taken beyond Manhattan and extend to the far reaches of the outer boroughs. The measure won’t just help to ensure the safety of subway riders, but will also help safeguard transit workers already fighting daily to protect their physical health throughout the pandemic, allowing them to more effectively focus on providing a reliable transit system to all New Yorkers. 

In 2020, felony and misdemeanor assaults on transit workers increased more than 50 percent from the previous year. Erik Garces, a train conductor, told the New York Times that the uptick in violence is “reminiscent of the bad days.”

Indeed.

We cannot trend backwards on this issue.  We must increase the police presence on our subways to better ensure the safety of our great city.

Liz Crotty, a Democratic candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, is a former assistant District Attorney and criminal defense lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience. Liz is a lifelong New Yorker who was born and raised in Stuyvesant Town. She has her own lawn firm, Crotty Saland PC.


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3 thoughts on “Opinion: NYC Subways Urgently Need More Cops

  1. Too bad THOUSANDS didn’t give a damn about essential workers who need to get into work and along with NYC’s moron of a mayor, defunded the police. Then of course, our dear mayor pulled all of the anti crime units. I tell my boss at least weekly, I’m afraid to commute back into NYC and not because of a virus with over a 95% recovery rate. No, it’s the crime. NYC has become the worst, most dangerous city in the world and that is due to Mayor De Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and the thousands who protested, destroyed, and looted because of one man. NYC you wanted this. You got it. I’m biding my time on Long Island while I prepare to flee to Florida- where it’s safe.

  2. I left NYC in November. I couldn’t handle the homeless situation outside my apartment in Chelsea, and not feeling safe walking to and from work in Midtown. There were hordes of homeless doing heroin on my corner (21st and 8th) and even a stabbing. I then told work recently that I did not feel safe commuting into the office 5 days a week because of the subway safety issues. In the span of a few weeks from late November to early January, several people were pushed onto subway tracks, 6 women assaulted at various stops in Brooklyn, and other insane happenings all around the city.

    Even though I can work remotely, work docked my pay because they consider this a lifestyle “choice.” No one should have to live with the insane stress New Yorkers are currently being forced to live with. Your choices are: go to work and live with the fear of assault, rape, or even death, or lose your job. Is anyone listening?

  3. It seems that rather than falling back on old tendencies that don’t work and further harm communities of color, this is a good opportunity to find new solutions to help the safety of those taking public transportation during a pandemic. Perhaps it’s increasing funding for the MTA to have more of a presence during quieter times. We know what happens when we increase police presence, they use their power to harm bodies as well. How about putting money and resources into housing and food security, removing the pretenses for crime to rise up to begin with. We need to be more creative and not assume that police will bring crime down (which we know they don’t) , without looking at the cause in the first place.

    Same reason why rich counties don’t have crime and ppl sleep with their doors unlocked. It’s not because there’s more police, it’s because there’s no needs going unmet, no reason to turn to crime.

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