MANHATTAN Fare beaters who hopped over grimy subway turnstiles back in the early 1990s were the first targets of a policing strategy that went after the smallest offenses and was credited with helping to drive crime down to record lows.
So now, a new policy to halt the prosecution of turnstile jumpers in Manhattan has some city officials and riders questioning it as a foolhardy turning back of the clock.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota wrote in a letter to the Manhattan District Attorney this week that “allowing ever more widespread fare-beating … unquestionably sends a loud and clear signal to those who would flout the law.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said his policy, which took effect Feb. 1, doesn’t prevent officers from stopping turnstile jumpers, and that those found to have weapons or an open warrant will be arrested and prosecuted. So why announce to the world fare beaters won’t be taken to jail anymore?
“It’s important to control access to the subway,” O’Neill said. “It’s how we keep people safe.”
Commissioner O’Neill talked about this issue at a Staten Island COJO community meeting that had elected officials and community leaders in attendance last week. Commissioner O’Neill was upset at the Manhattan D.A. over the new policy which he says sends a wrong message and rolls back all the good work the NYPD did over the last 25 years in keeping crime low.
If there is no balance with this new policy, crime will go up in the subway system.
Even the city’s liberal Democrat mayor, who has pushed policing reforms including the decrease in criminal arrests of low-level marijuana possession, is opposed the policy shift. Mayor Bill De Blasio says fare-beating isn’t necessarily motivated by poverty.
“A lot of people who commit fare evasion and the police encounter have a lot of money on them,” the mayor said. “I think I have a lot of validity on the question of income inequality and how we fight it, but you never heard me say, you know, open up the gates of the subway for free. That’s chaos.”