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Harry Siegel: Subway cop bosses talk themselves into cuffs

Subway cop bosses talk themselves into cuffs
Marc A. Hermann / MTA
NYPD Chief of Transit Michael Kemper, MTA Chair & CEO Janno Lieber joins Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban at Fulton Transit Center on Thursday, Mar 28, 2024 to announce a pilot program of weapon detectors, manufactured by Evolv, that can be deployed at subway entrances.
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Five days after the latest deadly train shooting and six days before the latest deadly train shoving, two top NYPD officials assured straphangers that things are going great underground.

Despite the high-profile incidents “dominating the news cycle and weighing heavily on our riders’ psyches,” said Transit Chief Michael Kemper, “there’s a lot of good going on in the subway system when it comes to public safety.”

That’s because “your cops” — as Kemper kept calling them in  along with Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry,  of the NYPD’s allegedly  — “are making arrests and doing enforcement at a historic or near historic levels.”

The crime stats are down in February and March, Kemper continued, crediting that to the fact that Mayor Adams “gave us an investment of over a thousand additional cops into the subway system.” 

The police bosses didn’t mention in their 10-minute appearance the spike in January that probably triggered .

They didn’t acknowledge, as even Adams has at times, that paying overtime for more subway cops isn’t a sustainable strategy.

“People feel, commissioner, they get on the subway, and what we consider normal and safe is abnormal,” host Rosanna Scotto said at one point. “They’re dealing with mentally ill people. I mean, our producer took the subway yesterday and watched a woman defecate.”

“Let me be clear,” Daughtry replied. “Our subway systems are very safe. But this incident that happened does not — this is not a reflection of every single day.You don’t hear about shootings happening every single day… There’s 4 million riders a day that take the train that got to their destination safely.”

The NYPD’s stats don’t track how many of those riders saw someone defecating or smoking. The four homicides on the subway through March are more than in all of 2019, and the worst start to a year since at least the early 1990s.*

“People have described the city subway as almost, it’s become in some ways a psychiatric ward,” co-host Dan Bowens said later in the interview. “When you talk about the EDPs and different ways to handle them, can they enforce some of those laws a little differently where they can remove some of the people? Is that even possible?”

“It’s not,” said Daughtry. “It’s not a crime to be mentally ill. What are we supposed to do, if they’re not committing a crime?”

There are obvious answers to the deputy commissioner’s rhetorical question, but they’d require a culture shift “your cops” seem incapable of.

That’s presumably why other city agencies are working with MTA police on the new SCOUT program, where those state officers back up city clinicians getting people who appear to be severely mentally ill diagnosed — without their consent if necessary.

Kemper, for his part, pointed to 124 people arrested repeatedly in the subways last year who had more than 7,500 lifetime arrests: “If anyone’s asking what your cops are doing, what the NYPD is doing, we’ve arrested these people 7,500 times.”

A famous definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

While declaring that “some of these people should not be in civilized society,” Kemper said “we do our job, we arrest people, we remove them from the system. And then these other stakeholders, it’s their job to determine the consequences, not us.”

It’s the real-life version of an old Onion bit: .

Adams himself seemed close to waving the same white flag after the latest nightmare shoving happened to be in a station where officers had been stationed elsewhere on the platform: 

“When you’re dealing with a severe mental health crisis or if you want to participate in criminal behavior, we have now reached a point where we have those so emboldened by that they can keep doing their actions, that the uniform no longer means anything.”

The shover’s brother, who gave detailing how the family had begged a hospital to keep him in its care as “the city is failing all mentally ill people,” had a different take: 

“In New York City the mentally ill have two options — either they go to jail or do something that lands them in the newspaper.” 

Adams talks a lot about “addressing problems upstream, instead of trying to solve them downstream.” 

Maybe the ex-cop could get his police department on the same page?

Or they can keep going on TV, and failing to convince most New Yorkers.

Siegel (harrysiegel@gmail.com) is an editor at The City and a columnist for the Daily News.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said there have been 10 killings on the subway so far this year. There have been four. The News regrets the error.

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