Commuters walk through the Times Square subway station.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
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More MTA cops and private security guards are hitting the subways amid a robbery spike that had top transit officials weighing seeking National Guard help, THE CITY has learned.
“We have looked at a variety of options and will continue to have other options on the table,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit. “This is what makes the most sense right now.”
Sarah Feinberg, New York City Transit’s interim president
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Robberies jumped 55% last month, compared to the same period in 2019, according to an NYPD report to the MTA, and major felonies remained essentially flat even as ridership all but vanished due to the coronavirus crisis.
With platforms and stations increasingly desolate — and the NYPD hit by coronavirus-related absences — the MTA is adding 70 more uniformed personnel to the subway, from its own police department and a pair of firms that already had security contracts with the transit agency,
On Sunday, the NYPD reported more than 5,000 absences among its uniformed officers, or about 14% of its uniformed workforce. That is down from a recent high of nearly 20%.
“I asked the MTA Police, to the extent possible, to shift people to the subway system,” Feinberg said. “They turned around on a dime and were able to do it.”
Of the six major crime categories reported by the NYPD to the MTA board, there were increases last month in the number of robberies, burglaries and murders in the subway system. There were 51 robberies last month, up from 33 in March 2019.
Some 173 major felonies were reported in the subways in March — six fewer than a year earlier when ridership was at normal, pre-crisis levels.
On March 7, Rudolph Dunning, 25, was stabbed to death at the Morrison Avenue-Soundview station in The Bronx. A 42-year-old man is facing charges in Dunning’s death.
MTA train operator Garrett Goble was killed at the Central Park North-110th Street in a March 27 fire that’s being investigated as arson. No arrest has been made in that case.
Some of the other subway crimes that were reported in March included:
March 15: An assault on a subway conductor at the 18th Avenue stop on the F line in Brooklyn; a stabbing at the Chambers Street station on the J; a slashing on a No. 4 train at 125th Street
March 24: A booth robbery by someone allegedly impersonating a New York City Transit employee
March 24: A slashing at Broadway Junction in Brooklyn
March 25: A bias incident at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop in Brooklyn
“There is a real problem down there,” said Marsha Landar, 61, a home-health aide who has continued riding the subway to work during the pandemic. “More police would be great, except they would be in harm’s way.”
On April 7, a man was stabbed to death on a J train at the Lorimer Street stop in Brooklyn. On Friday, a police officer broke her wrist after being kicked onto the tracks at the 125th Street station along the Lexington Avenue line during the arrest of a suspected fare-beater.
And on Saturday, multiple digital display boards were shattered on subway platforms at the 42nd Street-Bryant Park station in Manhattan, which would be bustling in normal times.
“If no one is around, there is an opportunity for someone who is so inclined to behave badly,” Feinberg said.
Feinberg said she and other transit officials looked at a variety of options that included getting help from the National Guard.
“We have an obligation to keep our system as safe as possible for our ridership and our workforce — that has to be our top priority,” she said.
The subways and buses remain operating to transport essential workers to their jobs. Meanwhile, the MTA has lost 68 employees to COVID-19, nearly two-thirds of them subway and bus workers.
Over the weekend, four City Council members called on Cuomo to temporarily shut subways to help stem the coronavirus spread. The governor has no plans to do so, but signed an executive order last week mandating that public transit users wear masks.
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