Subway trunstile (244863)
Credit: Pixabay

On Jan. 6 police apprehended a man accused of attacking five women in a two-month span at the Morgan Avenue subway station in East Williamsburg.

On Christmas Eve in Brooklyn, a 70-year-old station agent was pushed on to a railroad track that was supposed to be clear for overnight cleaning. The incident left him with a fractured spine and he barely avoided being electrocuted by the third rail.

On Jan. 2, a station agent in Manhattan was hit in the head with a baseball bat leaving her right eye swollen shut and seven staples in her head.

No matter if you’re a passenger or a subway worker, you aren’t immune to crime.

One of the reasons given to explain the alleged rise in subway crime is the COVID-19 pandemic. As of last December, 30% less people were riding the subway when compared to pre-pandemic numbers. According to the NYPD, there was a 56% drop in subway crime last month when compared to December 2019.

However, there was also close to a 70% drop in ridership. When compared to Jan. 25, 2021, there was a 69.7% drop in ridership on the same day from the previous year.

Regarding the Morgan Avenue subway attacks, New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg congratulated the NYPD for capturing the suspect.

“We’re grateful to the NYPD for their good work in apprehending this suspected serial criminal and seeking to put an end to these reprehensible attacks,” said Feinberg in a statement earlier this month. “We are outraged for these women and will work closely with the NYPD and district attorney to hold the perpetrator accountable to the maximum extent under the law.”

But while some attacks are met with swift action, one union official believes that attacks on workers aren’t being taken seriously.

In a five-month span ending in mid-December, officials at Transit Workers Union Local 100 said subway and bus workers were assaulted, harassed or spat on nearly 600 times.

During a joint New York State Assembly and Senate hearing this week, TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano testified that, during a period where 136 transit workers have died of COVID, his constituents need protection just as much as the general public does.

“Current law does not give transit workers the respect and protection they need and deserve,” Utano said. He called for more action against attacks on subway workers.

“Think about that,” Utano said. “Roughly four times a week, someone walks up to a conductor or a bus operator or cleaner—and spits on them. Why? Because there are no real consequences or deterrent for this disgusting behavior.”

In a separate letter to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, Utano said that the police aren’t working as hard as they should for his union members and that there needs to be a greater police presence in the subway system.

“With all due respect, many of my members do not believe the NYPD has their back,” wrote Utano. “They say that they never see uniformed police officers on their buses, and that they never see uniformed police officers on subway platforms. They occasionally see officers near turnstiles where they appear focused on fare-beating.”

The AmNews contacted the NYPD for comment but didn’t get a response.

During a board meeting this week NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Kathleen O’Reilly said the rise in subway crime isn’t as much of a problem as it seems to be.

“We are still battling the impression that crime is out of control in the subway, and this is not the case,” said O’Reilly. “These few vicious incidents don’t represent the majority of the subway system.”

For all of the news of an alleged increase in subway crime, the NYPD states that crime is lower than ever. However, the types of crimes seeing an increase leave a sour taste.

In the same week cops arrested the Morgan Avenue attacker, police officials unveiled statistics that showed crime in 2020 was lower than 2019, dropping 95,552 incidents. This includes 681 fewer victims than last year and 11,668 fewer victims in six years.

But there was also an increase in shootings and murders with a 97% increase in shootings and a 44% increase in murders when compared to 2019. Burglaries and car thefts have increased by 42% and 67% respectively. There was also a 29% increase in gun arrests.

According to the MTA, in 2020, 50 of its officers are patrolling the subway (the NYPD added hundreds of officers to subway patrol as well). Before testifying at the hearing Utano met with police department chiefs to discuss assaults impacting Local 100 members on buses and in subways. Utano called for a bigger police presence in order to deter crime. O’Reilly assured Utano that her division would see an increase in officers using the two classes of recruits in the NYPD Academy to add more people to subway patrol.

For now, however, words will substitute for action. In a statement addressing the Christmas Eve incident, MTA Chief Communications Officer Abbey Collins said, “We have zero tolerance for these heinous attacks on our heroic workers.”