Subway safety is important to all New Yorkers. But it is a brute necessity—even basic human right—for working people in the City who have no other means of getting to work or family.
The April 12 mass shooting in Brooklyn’s 36th Street subway station, on top of nearly weekly stabbings, points to a major default of New York City leaders. With subway crime up 54% since last year and 39% in the last month, prompt and decisive action is called for.
We propose two measures: (1) stationing at least one police officer at each turnstile (or set of turnstiles), around the clock, and (2) installing weapons screeners at every subway station.
Police at Every Set of Turnstiles
Increasing NYPD presence underground will help curb criminal activity in the subway system and do much to reinstate ridership confidence. The surge in subway violence is possible because police are not there to deter it. And people feel safer on the subway with uniformed cops around, a 2021 MTA survey shows.
Focusing our efforts on fare evasion, as some think-tanks suggest, is misguided. It is a question of priorities. Cops are needed not to write up fare-dodgers—as this could be a task for civilians—but critically to supplement the system in order to keep guns, knives, and other nefarious metals from getting inside and causing harm.
Deploying more police has a price tag. An NYPD officer costs about $150,000 per year. The New York City subway system has 472 stations, but there are more turnstiles than stations. Although there is probably no official tally of turnstiles, we can infer the maximum number of turnstiles from the number of entrances to subway stations, which sits at just below 2,000 (1,928) entrances, according to a public dataset from NYC Open Data. So, the number of stations and turnstiles in the system means the manpower this proposal would require will be at least 2,000 police (and perhaps an additional 2,000 civilian employees to staff the metal detectors we also recommend). Additional police cost a good deal more—perhaps six times the annual cost of extra token clerks. The MTA currently has around 3,000 station booths, and the cost of employing the people staffing them is around $250 million each year—the same amount the MTA spent in 2019 to hire 500 police officers to work in the subway and other parts of the transit system.
Is the price tag insurmountable? A fuller picture of the NYPD’s budgetary situation suggests that increased police costs would be within the range of what the City spends on police; albeit additional revenues (or budget cuts) may be necessary. Earlier this June, the New York City Council voted to adopt its $101 billion Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, of which $5.53 billion in funding was allocated for NYPD uses. According to the fiscal watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission, 88% of the NYPD’s budget consists in spending on personal service (salaries and wages, including overtime), while the remaining 12% is eaten up by non-personal service spending such as contract costs, operating expenses for equipment, and vehicle maintenance costs. Thus, the actual overall sums spent by the City on the NYPD is $11.2 billion, reflecting the NYPD’s $5.53 billion in operational spending as well “centrally allocated” costs that accrue to all city agencies for expenses such as fringe benefits, pensions, debt service, and so on.
Our proposal is for a temporary increase in transit policing that will last, say, 10 years. To the extent this will require an expansion in the NYPD’s budget, so be it. A poll conducted earlier this month shows that more than half of all New Yorkers think the NYPD’s budget should be bigger. No doubt, many of the City’s residents are dissatisfied with its arguably wasteful spending in areas of lesser importance than transit safety, e.g., the MTA’s recent—and roundly criticized—construction of a “stunning” $30 million stairway in the Times Square subway station.
Let’s give the people what they want and sorely need. The police officers we propose would have to be relatively near the metal detectors—our second proposal—in case altercations arise and in order to ticket or apprehend offenders.
Weapons Screeners at Every Station
Mayor Adams stated his interest, in the wake of the April 12 shooting, in having novel, artificial intelligence-driven metal detectors in New York City subways, explaining that their application would not be limited to, or entail the delay of, airport security scans. As the Mayor noted: “There are new models that are being used at ball games, ball parks, hospitals where you’re not stopping to go through your belongings. You’re simply walking through a device.” The reference is to state-of-the-art metal detectors made by Evolv Technology (and perhaps others), which presently cost approximately $250,000 per unit. Accordingly, installing walk-through metal detectors at every New York City subway station need not come at the expense of hindering the flow of persons in transit throughout the city. The recurring cost is in staffing them and, to avoid detector-evaders, armed police would seem essential.
Just shy of 200 New York City public schools now use metal detectors manned by unarmed school security personnel. When weapons, e.g., guns, knives, etc., are caught through the use of such detectors, they are seized by the authorities. Some 2,000+ weapons were seized from students in these schools in 2020. An important difference between schools and subways is what is termed “intense throughput.” Three to four detectors placed in a high school normally will do the job because, in schools, as contrasted with subways, it is relatively easy to secure the entrances and exits.
Even traditional metal detectors can be quite costly to install and maintain, with models that range anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice, models within the $4,000 to $5,000 price range offer features that are the most appropriate for a school environment. The attendant operational costs necessary to implement a complete weapon detection program include regular personnel training, equipment maintenance and repairs as well as the replacement of outdated equipment. To put these costs into perspective, according to a news report in 2018, it would cost approximately $46 million to install traditional metal detectors in all schools in Texas.
The newer model metal detectors will cost $250,000 each times 1,000 entrances, or $250 million in capital expenditures and, say, an additional $100 million annually for staff.
Again, we are proposing a costly addition to the MTA budget but, as mentioned, it is a question of priorities. If the subways are not safe, the City’s business and employment climate will continue to deteriorate substantially, and in some instances irreparably.
Gun Violence Prevention Laws After ‘NYSRPA v. Bruen’
The Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen should have no implications for the legality of our proposal. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in his concurrence, the states and the federal government may still permissibly put into place reasonable restrictions on the carrying of firearms in “sensitive places.” While Justice Kavanaugh provided a list of such places, including schools and government buildings, he noted that this list was not “exhaustive,” supporting an inference that the NYC subway system may and, in our view, should qualify as such a sensitive place. The Bruen decision was about unchecked administrative discretion and should not apply to government decisions banning all firearms or other weapons in particular places where people are especially vulnerable.
Reprinted with permission from the July 7, 2022 issue date of the “New York Law Journal” © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org