Dec. 18, 2019 By Allie Griffin
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Board approved the hiring of 500 additional transit police officers Wednesday, despite opposition from several local lawmakers.
The board voted to approve the authority’s $17 billion budget for 2020, which included funding for the additional officers — an expected $249 million over the next four years, according to the authority’s own estimates.
The hirings will add to the nearly 2,500 NYPD officers who patrol the transit system and is on top of the MTA’s existing police force of nearly 800 officers.
A day earlier, three Queens lawmakers called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to ditch his plans to hire the additional transit police officers and instead use to the money to improve subway and bus service.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, along with three other lawmakers, penned a letter to Cuomo on Tuesday arguing that MTA enforcement often unfairly targets low income and minority communities and that they money should be put to better use.
“In our view, desperately needed resources would be better invested in subway, bus, maintenance and service improvements, as well as protecting riders and transit workers from assault rather than in the over-policing of our communities,” the politicians wrote in the letter.
Cuomo’s proposal to ramp up MTA enforcement is meant to address quality of life crimes and fare evasion, but the lawmakers said that “arresting hard-working people who cannot afford a $2.75 fare is, in effect, the criminalization of poverty.”
They also say the hiring spree is unnecessary as overall crime on subways has decreased, citing NYPD statistics.
Instead of focusing their energy on catching turnstile hoppers, existing police should focus on protecting transit workers from an uptick in assault, the elected officials urged.
“Instead of patrolling the turnstile, existing police officers should focus on the threats faced by MTA employees,” they wrote in the letter.
The lawmakers noted the highly publicized recent arrest of a churro vendor and the arrest and tasering of a teenager at subway stations, which sparked transit advocates and elected officials to rally against the governor’s plan for 500 new officers last month.
The letter was also signed by Representatives José Serrano and Jerrold Nadler and State Senator Luis Sepúlveda.
Following the board’s decision to approve the hiring, Riders Alliance Police and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein criticized the governor, calling the new hires “the governor’s cops.”
“Today, Governor Cuomo saddled the MTA with a new police force it can’t afford and doesn’t need,” Pearlstein said. “He made that decision in the face of all evidence, arguments, and diverse voices in opposition.”