Criminal Budget—Cuomo’s Transit Cops Don’t Add Up
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) is in deep trouble. It is currently running on a $740 million deficit, delays have become more frequent, and service continues to worsen. As the fare consistently rises, the subway has become unaffordable for many New Yorkers. It goes without saying that the MTA needs to address these problems efficiently and directly because almost six million New Yorkers depend on their service daily. Unfortunately, Cuomo’s recent decision to nearly double the MTA police force from 783 to 1,364 members doesn’t address these foundational problems whatsoever and wastes urgently-needed funding.
The primary goal of the new officers is to reduce fare evasion, with the justification that cheapskates are making service worse for honest, paying customers. The revenue lost to fare evasion does take a sizable chunk out of the MTA’s budget—an estimated $215 million in 2018. However, if the MTA hopes to alleviate their budget crisis by “stepping up on fare evasion enforcement,” they have broken calculators. The new cops will end up costing $249 million over the five-year plan, but MTA predicts it will only save $200 million from reduced fare evasion in that time. From the get-go, the new cops are destined to be a drain on the MTA’s budget, and additional factors could exacerbate their cost. For one, reduced fare evasion doesn’t necessarily translate into increased fare revenue. The majority of evaders are in poverty and might stop riding altogether if enforcement is increased. Also, those caught without a valid ID or with a history of similar offenses can be given a misdemeanor and up to a year in prison. Petty offenses of this sort clog the justice system and cost an average of $1000 to process, while supporting a prisoner for a year in New York costs an average of $69,355. All these factors combined make it obvious that the transit cops will be an expense, not an easy new source of revenue.
When Cuomo announced his plan to increase the number of transit cops, he said, “Historically, the [New York Police Department] did the policing in the transit system, but there has been a dramatic increase in crime in the subway system. Felonies are up, assaults are up, robberies are up, and I’ve been talking about this for years.” Despite what Cuomo claimed, as of October 27, crime rates in subways have decreased by three percent compared to last year, and the occurrence of felonies in the subways dropped 71 percent from 1997 to 2018. When the political figure spearheading a major proposal spreads misinformation, there are two possibilities. One, they are spending taxpayer dollars without doing basic research, or two, they are lying to the public because the statistics don’t support their decision. “The feeling that subways are unsafe is up. I’m hearing it all over, and I think the additional MTA police will be helpful in that regard,” Cuomo said on November 11. It’s absurd to spend $249 million on a “feeling” that is directly contradicted by facts: subway crime is near an all-time low.
While crime in the subways is down, cases of police brutality have been more frequent following the influx of cops. Police officers aimed their guns into a crowded subway car and rushed in as the doors opened to tackle an unarmed black teenager with his hands in the air on October 25. In the NYPD’s statement, they said that they had seen him jump a turnstile and suspected he possessed a firearm. According to Nehori, a passenger on the train, “If anything small went wrong, someone could have been hurt.” The next day at the Jay-Street Metrotech station, cops violently arrested four teenagers they had seen fighting, and in the chaos punched a 15-year-old black bystander in the face, whom they assumed was involved. Though police brutality is relatively rare, any violence from police directed toward innocent people has a terrible and widespread societal impact, especially because it almost exclusively targets minorities. To make matters worse, the new cops aren’t required to wear body cams because they technically aren’t part of the NYPD. This makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions because there is less objective evidence available in court.
Another justification for the increased police presence is to combat homeless people in subways. Data collected by an MTA-approved task force showed that 2178 people live in the subway, a 20 percent increase from last year. This statistic has been used by Cuomo to argue that transit police are needed to get the homeless out of the subway and into shelters. “I’ve never seen it so bad,” he said at a press conference after riding the subway. He also emphasized how homeless people slow down service, but in 2018, only 0.07 percent of delays were caused by issues related to the homeless. The MTA provided no evidence to show that cops are effective at reducing homelessness in subways and didn’t explore alternatives such as using social workers, who would be less intimidating and better suited. Ideally, the MTA would effectively and humanely help the homeless find support outside of the subways, but as it currently stands, hiring cops to go around badgering sleeping homeless people is certainly not the most pressing use of money.
The MTA must urgently address their deteriorating system. Every dollar should be spent getting service back on track and providing subsidized MetroCards to New Yorkers in poverty—spending $249 million on new transit cops solves nothing. The MTA must quickly reconsider its decision because it simply cannot afford that price. This proposal plunges the MTA into more debt and away from a better system.