NY TRANSIT AND POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY ADVOCATES TO GOVERNOR CUOMO: INVEST IN MTA SERVICE UPGRADES NOT MORE MTA POLICE

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[New York News\MTA]
Riders Alliance Community Organizer Danna Dennis: "Riders need more subways and buses, not an expensive new police force. Governor Cuomo should cancel his order for the MTA to hire new police officers it cannot afford and doesn't need. The governor needs to face the facts: crime is down and ridership is up. New Yorkers need more service and less surveillance, more public transit and less abuse of the public trust."
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In a letter Monday, police accountability, transit and racial justice advocates demanded Governor Cuomo shift MTA priorities away from expensive new law enforcement effort aimed at subway and bus riders and toward core service provision instead.

Eighty local, statewide and national progressive organizations, including police accountability, transit advocacy, racial justice and other groups wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday in an effort to combat police abuse and head off a diversion of scarce public transit funds. The groups demanded that the governor not hire a planned 500 new MTA police officers and instead spend transit funding on the agency's core mission of providing accessible and reliable subway, bus, and rail service to 8.6 million New Yorkers each day.

Groups also called on Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to withdraw the surge of 500 MTA, Bridge & Tunnel and NYPD officers added to the public transit system over the summer.

"Black and other New Yorkers of color are subjected to abusive policing every day," said Monifa Bandele, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform and Senior Vice President of MomsRising Together. "Hiring 500 new MTA officers will increase police violence and is fiscally irresponsible when NYC desperately needs more accessible and reliable transit service. Governor Cuomo should cancel plans to hire new MTA officers and he and Mayor Blasio should withdraw the 500 officers added to the transit system this summer."

"Riders need more subways and buses, not an expensive new police force," said Riders Alliance Community Organizer Danna Dennis. "Governor Cuomo should cancel his order for the MTA to hire new police officers it cannot afford and doesn't need. The governor needs to face the facts: crime is down and ridership is up. New Yorkers need more service and less surveillance, more public transit and less abuse of the public trust."

Earlier this year, following debates over a transit fare hike and congestion pricing, Governor Cuomo announced the hiring of 500 new MTA police officers. In a first, the new recruits would be assigned to subways and buses, long the domain of the NYPD's 2,500-officer transit division. The influx of law enforcement was alternately justified by the governor's and his aides' concerns about fare evasion, homelessness, misdemeanor assaults, index crime, and terrorism.

The MTA now estimates the new police hires will cost the cash-strapped transit agency $249 million over the next four years. Agency officials meanwhile project an operating budget deficit of $433 million over the same time period, assuming it can cut its payroll by 2,700 workers over the same period. Without shrinking MTA headcount, a projected deficit of $740 million would balloon to over $1 billion as a result of the police hires, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Earlier this year, Chair Pat Foye threatened bus and subway service cuts to help close the MTA's immense budget gap. While the agency now claims it plans no 'budget-driven' service cuts, it reduced the frequency of Brooklyn's busiest bus route to save $2.4 million.

Since the governor announced his plans to hire a new MTA police force dedicated to subway and bus patrols, the number of high-profile incidents pitting officers against riders has surged. Police aimed loaded guns into a crowded subway car, punched a teenager, and detained several low-income, immigrant food vendors. When the governor cited rising crime in the subways as a reason to hire new police, he was sharply rebuked on his facts by NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.

Monday's letter comes on the heels of the MTA's budget presentation in November and the agency board's vote to adopt it in December. Governor Cuomo appoints all board members, some on the recommendation of other elected officials. He also appoints the agency's managers. Accordingly, the letter is directed to the governor himself, asking that he cancel plans to burden the transit system with a new police force it cannot afford and does not need. Instead, the letter argues, the governor should invest in the MTA's core operations, running better, more frequent and accessible service to meet the needs of New York's 8.6 million daily public transit riders.

Many other activists and organizations weighed in on the Governor Cuomo's plan to increase MTA police.

"New Yorkers want to be safe, both above-ground and below," said Mark Winston Griffith, Brooklyn Movement Center Executive Director. "Governor Cuomo's expensive plan to hire 500 new MTA police officers not only adds little in the way of actual safety, but furthers the criminalization and over-policing of Black and Brown bodies. At a time when some jurisdictions are beginning to reject failed Broken Windows policies, while exploring innovations in public safety, the Governor's tone deaf actions move our city in the wrong direction."

"Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio's decisions to flood NYC subways with additional policing are wholly unnecessary, ill-advised, and should be immediately reversed," said Kumar Rao, Director of Justice Transformation and Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy. "Additional police officers in the subway do not advance public safety, they undermine it, as shown in a number of recent videos revealing police abuse of vulnerable New Yorkers. Our city desperately needs investment in our subway system infrastructure, not more resources towards an already bloated police budget or a violent crackdown on our fellow residents."

Instead of investing in solutions that will address poverty like increased access to affordable housing or better paying jobs, the state has chosen to spend $249 million on criminalizing poverty with the addition of 500 new MTA cops," said Michael Sisitzky, Lead Policy Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo must stop using low-income and homeless New Yorkers as a scapegoat for the MTA’s problems and take some responsibility in addressing the long-standing issues with our city’s public transit system. The criminalization of poverty has gone on for far too long and this plan to further it should not move forward.”

"Our transit system is broken and inaccessible, fares are exorbitant and ever-rising, and we are facing an epidemic of police violence in our subways," said Loyda Colon, Justice Committee Co-Director. "In this context, Gov. Cuomo's decision to hire an additional 500 MTA cops is a total misuse of public funds and an act of war against low-income and poor New Yorkers of color."

"A war is being waged on the poor. That's exactly the message you send to us when you invest in 500 new MTA cops because so many of us can’t afford public transportation or homes in this city," said Make the Road New York Youth Leader Keith Fuller.

"We just had an ex-mayor apologize for something he and the rest of New Yorkers all knew was wrong, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program," said Nikita Price, Picture the Homeless spokesperson. "And now we have our present Mayor and Governor wrongly scapegoating the homeless, vendors, kids selling snacks, entertainers and the like for problems with mass transit. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio need to know we don’t need 1,000 more cops in transit - take taxpayers' money and fix the broken transit system."

"I witnessed firsthand the disastrous and traumatizing results of hyper-aggressive policing on our subways. These videos will continue to come out because these events will continue to occur as long as our subways are filled with police looking to arrest people for so-called quality of life offenses. This needs to end," said Elad Nehorai, member of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, witness to police brutality at Franklin Avenue.

“The last thing that New York City needs is 1,000 new police officers in our subway criminalizing poverty and homelessness,” said Stanley Fritz, Political Director of Citizen Action of New York. “There is a reason the NYPD's Stop & Frisk program was deemed unconstitutional - it led to rampant police violence against Black and Brown New Yorkers. More police on the trains will only result in the same: more incidents of abusive policing. Governor Cuomo & Mayor de Blasio need to address the real issues that New Yorkers are facing, and stop revisiting failed and harmful policies. Cancel the plan to assign 1,000 police officers to the MTA and actually invest in fixing a broken transit system.”

"Among the last things our city needs is 500 more officers on our subways. History & recent experience show that cops all too often use excessive force, inflicting harm on vulnerable NYers, mainly NYers of color, often homeless or mentally ill. Better for the people victimized, for our whole city would be free or reduced fares for low-income persons & more services including affordable housing units for our most vulnerable people. Let's choose to help our people rather than hurt them," Bob Gangi, Director, Police Reform Organizing Project.

"CPC serves over 60,000 Asian American, immigrant, and low-income New Yorkers each year. Our community members face enormous barriers to pursuing the same hopes and dreams as other New Yorkers. Our communities struggle with limited English proficiency, health disparities, housing insecurity, undocumented immigration status, and much more. Unfortunately, the State has cut services, funding, and resources that empower our families and communities," said Amy Torres, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC). "Increased policing of the MTA is an unnecessary expense that criminalizes low-income individuals and endangers our communities. Under the current 1996 'crimmigration' laws, even minor infractions like fare evasion can lead to deportation. CPC urges the Governor’s Office instead to invest resources in expanding social services and fixing the subway.”

Many homeless people -- in and out of the subway -- have disabilities. Additional policing just won’t help them, though housing and a wiser approach to outreach would,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, who added: “At the same time it wants to hire 500 officers, the MTA has proposed cuts to a much-loved on-demand Access-A-Ride pilot and still fails to fix elevators and escalators, priorities for our community. We urge the MTA to take a different direction.”

As New York City looks toward implementing historic criminal justice reforms, the addition of 500 cops to deal with what is clearly an economic and social justice issue is unnecessary, cruel and counterproductive,” said Scott Levy, Chief Policy Counsel at The Bronx Defenders. “Every day, The Bronx Defenders and other public defenders citywide witness the devastating consequences to our clients and their families when policymakers embrace over-policing at the expense of community investment. We call on the Governor to walk this proposal back.”

With a looming $1 billion operating deficit, and the service cuts that inevitably follow, we can’t afford to hire police officers we don’t need,” said Alex Matthiessen, director of Move NY. “Instead New York must devote every dollar we have to restoring the core function of our transit system: getting six million daily riders to their destinations safely, affordably and efficiently.”

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