New Police Presence in Subway Not Making All MTA Workers Feel Safer

The announcements became ubiquitous in just a couple of days, but some conductors say it’s background noise and could actually put a bigger target on their backs.

November 16, 2022 Jose Martinez, THE CITY
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As a Brooklyn-bound C train pulled into the 59th Street-Columbus Circle station during the evening rush earlier this month, subway riders heard one version of an announcement that is now being repeated at many stops along the line.

“If you have any questions, concerns, reports, the NYPD is located at this station,” the conductor announced.

One stop to the south, the conductor weighed in again, saying, “We have police available at this station.”

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Those phrases have in recent weeks become increasingly familiar to subway riders as part of a city and state anti-crime push that has significantly increased the police presence on platforms, trains and in stations throughout a system grappling with a more than 40% increase in major felonies from last year, according to NYPD statistics.

But some train crew members and leaders of the largest union for transit workers say the announcements have been less well received by the conductors who are supposed to recite them over train speakers whenever police officers alert them in advance to their presence.

“Everybody’s got their headphones in, so who’s really listening to any of the announcements?” Brandon Crawford, a conductor on the No. 2 line told THE CITY at the line’s Wakefield-241st Street terminal in The Bronx told THE CITY. “It’s background noise, if I had to be honest.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams in late October rolled out an expanded subway safety campaign, which beefed up the NYPD presence in the system through 1,200 daily overtime officer shifts, assigned MTA Police officers to stations connected to commuter rail hubs, and added on-train announcements to the subterranean soundtrack.

“It may help a little bit as far as making someone on the train think twice if they’re planning to do something bad,” said Elena Rodriguez, who was waiting for a northbound C train at the 50th Street stop in Manhattan. “It did make me feel a little comfortable, but at the same time, you just never know.”

Transit officials say the overall safety plan is important to a system whose ridership is still far below pre-pandemic levels.

“What we’re hearing from our customers is they love knowing that there are cops on the platform,” said Janno Lieber, MTA chairperson and CEO. “Both to reassure them that there’s a police presence but also, in some cases, so they know where to turn if something that concerns them is going on.”

An NYPD officer at the Q train’s Church Avenue station in Flatbush, Nov. 10, 2022. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“They don’t like it”

Tony Utano, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, has repeatedly called for more police in the subway.

But some union officials who represent train operators and conductors say they have heard grumbling from train crew members that the announcements about police can increase dwell time — the amount of time trains spend in a station while riders load and unload — though MTA officials said there is no indication that service has slipped as a result of the public safety campaign.

While union officials said they welcome the addition of police officers in stations and on platforms, they also expressed concern from train crew members that the announcements could drive disturbed individuals to violently turn on conductors when they poke their heads out of train car windows at stops.

“We don’t want to bring additional attention to ourselves,” said Jonluke Rodriguez, a TWU Local 100 chair who represents subway train operators. “They don’t like it.”

MTA statistics show subway workers have been harassed or assaulted more than 350 times this year. Rodriguez said the bulk of incidents involved conductors being spit on or attacked.

There have been nine homicides in the transit system so far this year, Hochul noted last month. That’s up from eight murders in all of 2021, six in 2020 and three in 2019, according to NYPD numbers.

Rodriguez said transit workers feel especially vulnerable during the overnight hours, when ridership is lower — and police patrols drop off.

“I hear a lot from the members that in the evening and the overnight hours, it’s not the same police presence,” he said.

While the NYPD declined to provide the number of officers that are in the subway during overnight hours, a spokesperson said Transit Bureau cops have conducted more than 430,000 train runs since January. During the same time period, the NYPD said transit and patrol officers have conducted more than 850,000 station inspections.

“The added numbers of station inspections and train runs create an omnipresence that riders, at all hours, can see and feel,” the spokesperson said.

Subway conductor Julio Rosa said the new announcements provide some peace of mind. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Getting the memo

New York City Transit President Richard Davey said the MTA is simply giving customers what they want. Agency surveys have repeatedly shown that safety is a top concern among subway riders.

“The bottom line is, this is what folks asked for: more police in the stations,” Davey told THE CITY.

Davey said the announcements will eventually be automated on trains and in stations that are home to NYPD Transit Bureau districts.

As veteran conductor Julio Rosa stepped off a Q train at the line’s 96th Street terminal in Manhattan, he said the repetitive announcements can serve a purpose — even if riders aren’t tuned in.

“It’s 50/50, because you have people who don’t listen or who have their earbuds in,” said Rosa, an MTA worker for nearly three decades. “But I think it does provide some sense of security, especially when they see that it’s not just the announcements, but there is an increased police presence to match.”

Ryan Eversley, another conductor on the Q line, said he welcomes any efforts to make riders and transit employees feel more comfortable.

“I do see the police at the conductor’s position,” he said. “I guess everybody’s getting the memo now.”

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