Eight lawmakers have co-signed a joint letter addressed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ahead of the MTA’s vote on its budget to discourage the transportation agency in investing in 500 MTA police officers to thwart low-level infractions at a time when transit crime is down.
“In October of this year, [former] NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill disputed the characterization that subway crime is on the rise noting that ‘overall crime is down,'” said the lawmakers via the letter.
The eight lawmakers, which include State Sens. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn), Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhust), Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), as well as U.S. Reps. José Serrano (D-Bronx), Jerry Nadler (Manhattan, Brooklyn) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Jackson Heights) would rather have the funding directed towards improving transit infrastructure.
“Punishing the poor does not create a safer environment,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez. “Instead it threatens the very foundation of our community. That is why my New York colleagues and I wrote a letter to @NYGovCuomo asking him to help put an end to MTA’s dangerous policing policy.”
The danger Ocasio-Cortez alludes to were prior incidents earlier this year where MTA police officers aggressively obtained a turnstile jumper while pointing guns in a packed subway car and cuffed a woman selling churros as she tried to leave with her food cart in tears due to a lack of a food permit.
The NYPD said a credible witness saw the turnstile jumper with a gun, but Fox News later reported that there was no weapon on the individual.
Both incidents occurred in Brooklyn, but have caused some concerns for minorities in Queens who attended a town hall hosted by Ocasio-Cortez in Woodside this past weekend.
Eugene Kim, a constituent of Ocasio-Cortez, asked “what was being done to prevent this in Queens?”
“This is a misguided use of resources,” added Kim.
The lawmakers agreed.
“In our view, desperately needed resources would be better invested in subway, bus, maintenance and service improvements, as well as protecting subway riders and transit workers from assault rather than in the over-policing or our communities,” said the lawmakers.
The proposed MTA police force was estimated to cost the transit agency $56 million, bringing its budget deficit from $740 million to more than $1 billion by 2023, according to The Citizens Budget Commission.
The Transit Workers Union has also noted that there was an uptick in assaults on transit workers and straphangers and the lawmakers who signed on to the joint letter believe that is where law enforcement attention should be gravitated towards instead of “criminalizing poverty.”