To improve train safety, city needs more police presence, mental health and social services in the subways

By Ydanis Rodriguez | April 4, 2021

There’s no ignoring the disturbing reports in recent weeks about random attacks in the transit system. Innocent New Yorkers have been targeted on far too many occasions –including in a stabbing spree on the A train that left two people dead. I was horrified to learn that three of the four horrendous attacks in this case were carried out in my district. My constituents and all New Yorkers deserve to feel safe while riding the subway.

That is why I fully support the deployment of Mental Health Specialists, Social Workers, and the reallocation of the additional 1,000 Police Officers the MTA has requested within our transit system. Furthermore, we must ensure that the officers being deployed on subways and buses have been properly trained on how to engage with individuals suffering from mental health illnesses.

It is increasingly concerning that as fewer people are riding the subway and buses due to the pandemic, we have seen an uptick in violent assaults on transit workers and riders alike. These incidents are outrageous and unacceptable. However, they are indicative of a growing trend. Felony assaults in the system have increased by 26.5% despite a steep decline in ridership of 70% in the subways and 50% on buses. And cases of murder and rape, while they remain extremely rare, doubled from three to six and three to seven respectively in 2020.

I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea for dedicating additional officers to the
Transit Bureau to address these issues, but the reality is we need to do more. An influx of Social Workers and properly trained Police personnel will bring peace of mind and a sense of security to riders. It is imperative that we treat mental health issues as public health issues and not primarily as issues of public safety. We must continue monitoring the City’s pilot program in Northern Manhattan to deploy Social Workers in cases of mental health crises. My hope is that we will be able to expand on this initiative and have Police Officers working with Social Workers to make our subways and buses safer.

This is especially important as the City begins to reopen. If we do not have a safe, clean, and secure transit system to welcome back New Yorkers as we continue to bring the City back online, the recovery we so desperately need will not be possible. And to be clear, this is not about hiring additional officers, but reassigning existing ones to the transit system.

Obviously, more Police will not solve the mental health crisis we are facing. That’s why part of this important work must include connecting the homeless and mentally ill New Yorkers who seek shelter in the subway with appropriate services. We must create a pipeline that brings trained Social Workers into the system– professionals who can give these individuals the support they need and deserve. The City working in conjunction with the State must protect our most vulnerable populations.

No New Yorker should be scared to use the transit system, especially the heroic essential
workers who have been riding the subway and buses throughout the pandemic. We must act now to keep them safe and instill public confidence in mass transit as the City recovers.

Ydanis Rodriguez is Chairman of the New York City Council Transportation Committee.