Sunday, April 14, 2024

I think New York’s flashy efforts to stop subway crime are not the right way to go about it

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After some big violent incidents, New York Governor Kathy Hochul wants to tackle crime in the subway. However, her approach might not be the best fit for the situation. Instead of using a precise tool, she’s opting for a strong and flashy one.

Hochul plans to send 750 National Guard members underground, all geared up in camouflage and heavily armed. They’ll be joined by 250 officers from the New York State Police and MTA Police, who will randomly check bags.

Hochul says, “People going to work or visiting family shouldn’t worry about someone nearby having a dangerous weapon. We’ll handle that at these checkpoints.”

Along with this bold move, she’s pushing for more surveillance cameras, stricter penalties for repeat offenders, and a new law banning those found guilty of violent crimes in the subway from riding for at least three years.

These measures are in response to a series of violent incidents in the subways that have shaken New Yorkers. One subway conductor, Alton Scott, was seriously injured when an unknown person slashed his neck. Another incident involved the fatal shooting of 45-year-old William Alvarez after an argument, and a subway musician, Iain Forrest, was attacked with a bottle.

Deploying almost 1,000 National Guard members and police into the subways is a strong response, but is it the right solution? According to The New York Times, there was one serious violent crime for every million passenger trips in mid-2022. However, public safety is not just about numbers; it’s also about how safe people feel. Sometimes, seeing a police officer on a quiet street at night can ease fears. But Hochul’s plan is different from that kind of reassurance.

Sending soldiers to randomly check bags at busy train stations during rush hour might make some commuters feel safer and create a memorable image for the news, but there’s no proof it would stop unexpected attacks or conflicts between passengers during early morning hours.

New York State Sen. John Liu acknowledges the recent increase in crimes in subways but points out that the public’s perception is worse than the actual situation. He understands the governor’s desire to appear proactive, but believes efforts should be consistent, not just impulsive.

The New York Police Department, responsible for subway safety, doubled officers in 2022 after a shooting incident. Mayor Eric Adams, a former transit cop, has considered installing metal detectors in all 472 subway stations.

However, many issues in the subway, both real and perceived, stem from disorder related to the thousands of mentally ill individuals on the streets and subways. Crimes like the 2022 murder of Michelle Go and the choking of subway performer Jordan Neely were committed by mentally ill individuals.

Dealing with mentally ill people requires the expertise of social workers, not soldiers. Governor Hochul’s plan involves more social worker teams in subways, but it also includes law enforcement. This sends the wrong message; mentally ill individuals need help, not handcuffs. Medical professionals, not cops, should be reaching out to them. It may not be as visually striking, but it’s the right approach to address the safety issue in subways.

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