Tale of Two Cities: While NYC Hires 500 More Cops to Patrol Subway for Fare Evasion, Kansas City Offers Free Bus Rides,

The MTA board in New York City approved the hiring of 500 new police officers to patrol its subway system despite the recent backlash it has faced of over-policing and criminalizing people of color.

The hiring of the officers comes following New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement in June of his desire to improve public safety and end fare evasion. On Wednesday, the MTA approved the $17 billion 2020 budget, which will include “safety and security at employee facilities, stations, trains, buses, bridges, and tunnels.” The state of New York is trying to end fare evasion, as the lost revenue in fare evasion in the state increased from $105 million in 2015 to $225 million in 2018. In the past year, the state has lost $243 million, according to Cuomo’s statement from June.

“This year we succeeded in making historic reforms to the MTA and provided significant new funding streams that will overhaul the system," Cuomo said in his previous statement. "But the MTA is still plagued by problems of public safety, attacks against transit workers and persistent fare evasion - issues that have only worsened in recent years. This new multi-pronged effort will improve safety on the system overall, protect workers from these incomprehensible assaults, and deter fare evasion by deploying 500 new uniformed officers on our subways and buses.”

Politicians such as U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and civil rights organizations have slammed the proposal, stating that the approach could increase over-policing of people of color and criminalizes those living in poverty.

And while New York City is looking to add more police with the hope of deterring or arresting fare jumpers, targeting the poor, Kansas City, Missouri, announced it was going in a different direction. The midwest metropolis is set to become the first major U.S. city to offer no-cost public transportation to its citizens.

Let’s breakdown the two opposing policies.

New York City Public Transit

On Tuesday, one day before the MTA budget vote, Ocasio-Cortez wrote a letter to the MTA Transit Board, urging the board to not place more officers in subway stations due to recent events of NYPD over-policing citizens.

“Recent social media posts showing police officers brutalizing individuals in our subway demonstrate the need to focus on its policing issues in the MTA system,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

The letter, which was also signed by Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Congressman Jose Serrano, also noted that officers who are hired to patrol subways are not required to wear a body camera, which “raises concerns about accountability.”

“Arresting hard-working people who cannot afford a $2.75 fare is, in effect the criminalization of poverty,” the letter read. “It will be these same communities that will be most affected if the subway system is bankrupt or if there are additional route cuts.”

Despite this, the MTA was not backing down. MTA chairman and chief executive Patrick J. Foye slammed the letter in a statement to The New York Times.

“We will not engage in politics when it comes to public safety,” he told the publication. “New Yorkers deserve to have reliable service and feel secure [in] our system. Adding additional uniformed police officers across the M.T.A. will help ensure safety and quality of life for our eight million daily customers.”

Here are some incidents that occurred these past few months where the NYPD have over-policed civilians:

  • A video that went viral on Twitter in October showed panicked subway riders as NYPD officers were tapping and pointing their guns at the subway car at a Black man who was raising his hands in the air. When the subway doors open, two officers can be seen throwing the man to the ground as dozens of other officers flood the car. In a previous statement to WNBC, the NYPD stated officers were responding to “an alert for a male with a gun.” The man, who was identified as 19-year-old Adrian Napier, did not have a gun on him. Napier hopped a turnstile at Pacific Subway Street station and ran onto the southbound 4 train after he was approached by officers on Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.

  • The teen was reportedly “wanted for questioning in regards to a past larceny,” and he was arrested for jumping the subway turnstile and charged with theft of service, according to the news station.

  • That same month, another video went viral on Twitter of seven NYPD officers punching teens on a subway platform in Brooklyn during a brawl. A report from The New York Daily News stated that one of the officers, who punched one of the teens in the video, has a history of Civilian Complaint Review Board complaints against him, including the use of excessive force. The officer has since been placed on a “non-enforcement assignment” during the investigation of the brawl, according to the publication.

  • In November, a churro vendor and her cart can be seen being escorted away by NYPD officers inside the Broadway Junction Subway Station in Brooklyn in a now viral video. In the video, the Latina woman can be seen crying as officers surround her. The woman recording the video is told by one of the officers that it is illegal to sell food inside of a subway station. The police had reportedly warned the vendor int he past, who only speaks Spanish, “many times” to stop selling food in the station. The video was viewed over 2.6 million times on Twitter and sparked national outrage. Another churro vendor was arrested days later, at Queens at the Myrtle-Wyckoff station, after refusing to leave because she did not have a license to sell food, The New York Daily News previously reported.

  • Earlier this month, affidavits were filed by former NYPD officers alleging that NYPD commanders instructed cops to target Black and Hispanic civilians in order to meet arrest quotas, labeling them “hard targets”, and to avoid White, Asian and Jewish civilians who were considered “soft targets.”

Meanwhile, in Kansas City

Last week, the Kansas City, Missouri, city council unanimously voted to offer free public bus service. The city is now poised to become the first major city to provide free bus service to its citizens.

"We want this city to be as efficient as possible,” Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas told KMBC. “We want to make it a city where a pedestrian has an opportunity to get to where they need to go."

On Twitter, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority praised the new decision, stating that it would "improve the lives of so many and help fuel the local economy." Bus fares in the city are typically $1.50 or $50 monthly passes, according to City Lab. The decision will cost the city $9 million but transportation and government officials hope to make up the difference with the increase of mobility, according to the publication. Smaller cities like Vail, Colorado, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina also offer free transit fares.

What They’re Saying

Michael Sisitzky, the lead policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said in a statement to The North Star that New York has chosen an approach that will only hurt citizens.

“We’ve seen the harmful effects that police can have in our public transit, particularly on low-income or homeless New Yorkers. Instead of investing in solutions that will address the underlying cause of fare-beating, poverty, the state has chosen to spend millions on criminalizing poverty,” Sisitzky said. “With crime at an all-time low, and increasingly falling, we must shift away from a system that constantly calls on police to address issues they will have no help in solving.”

The Communities United for Police Reform (CUPR) also slammed the new approach, stating it will criminalize New Yorkers of color and street vendors trying to make a buck.

"Today's vote approving 500 new MTA police is backwards policy, fiscally irresponsible and will increase police abuse of New Yorkers. We should be reducing the outsized police force in NYC, not increasing it. This bad political move of increasing police in transit has never been about safety - the purpose is to continue to criminalize poverty and scapegoat people who are homeless, street vendors and Black and other New Yorkers of color,” the statement to TNS read. “MTA board members who promoted baseless fear mongering and voted for the hiring of new police should be ashamed of themselves."

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.