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Adams, Hochul struggle to stop unrelenting violent subway crime wave in New York City

A recent murder, a shooting, and random acts of violence are just the latest examples of the increasing violent crime rates on the nation's largest public transportation system.

Published: March 29, 2024 11:00pm

A recent spate of murders, random acts of violence, and a shooting on the New York City subway system have thrust the city into the national spotlight.

Despite decreases in crime rates overall throughout the city, violent crimes on the subways persist in the face of attempts by Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul to curb the problem. The mayor’s latest initiative—portable gun scanners for subway stations—is the latest in a series of actions to combat the growing crisis. But after two years, the statistics have not improved, raising questions about what the city could do differently.   

On Monday, a man who was described by his mother as having psychological issues pushed a random stranger onto the subway tracks at an East Harlem station. According to the police, the attack was unprovoked. The driver of the oncoming train was unable to stop in time and the victim was struck and killed.

Later that evening, a suspect was arrested by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and identified as Carlton McPherson. NYPD said the man appeared to have a history of mental illness and had several previous arrests in Brooklyn. McPherson has committed a string of assaults revealing a violent nature. In the first assault on record, from when he was 16-years-old, he attacked another teenager with brass knuckles.

It was precisely these outbursts of violence in the NYC subway system that Mayor Eric Adams immediately began working to tackle when he took office in early 2022. In February of that year, Adams announced a new plan to send more police and mental health assistance specialists into the subways to combat both crime and homelessness which were contributing to commuters feeling unsafe.

“The days of turning a blind eye to this growing problem are over,” Adams said when he released the plan, according to AP.

However, two years later, crime on the subway system has continued to rise. An analysis of NYPD crime data by CBS News found subway crime was up 22.6% in the beginning of the year compared to the same period in of time in 2023. The outlet also found that New Yorkers are reporting almost three times the number of assaults on the subway since 2022—when Mayor Adams first implemented his plans—than a decade ago.

The struggle to stop the crime wave has been felt acutely by the mayor’s office. Just last month, Adams announced that NYPD officers would work 12-hour shifts as part of a renewed effort to combat felonies on the transit system, which he said are averaging about six per day.

“We want officers walking through the trains, being at the platforms, being near the token booth and identifying where the crime is actually taking place," the mayor said last month, according to CBS News. "We're seeing a substantial amount of that crime taking place on our subways.”

Earlier this month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul ordered the state’s national guard to deploy to NYC subway stations to help the city combat the rising crime. She ordered 750 members of the guard to assist New York police with bag checks at busy stations.

“For people who are thinking about bringing a gun or knife on the subway, at least this creates a deterrent effect. They might be thinking, ‘You know what, it just may just not be worth it because I listened to the mayor and I listened to the governor and they have a lot more people who are going to be checking my bags,'" Hochul said at a news conference earlier this month.

Yet there is little evidence that Hochul and Adams are being "listened to" by criminals. One week after the National Guard swept into the city, a shooting in a crowded subway car in Brooklyn shocked commuters and frustrated the Mayor who has been working to ensure subways are safe.

According to reports, the 36-year-old shooting victim boarded the subway at nearly 5 o’clock in the afternoon with a gun and a knife. He then got into an altercation with a younger male passenger, possibly over a subway seat, police said. The aggressor pulled out his gun, was disarmed by the younger man, and shot with his own weapon, causing a panic in the crowded subway car.

Adams quickly tied the shooting to the mental health crisis in the city. “I don’t want to go into the thrust of the investigation, but I’m sure as New Yorkers see this unfold, and what we can release, you would see there was a passenger that was merely just minding his business and going, you know, using the transportation like millions of people do, and a person with severe mental health illness, what appears to be severe mental health illness, got engaged in a very violent way,” the mayor said the day after the shooting.

The shooting is part of a cluster of incidents in the first months of 2024 that show the problem is an enduring one, rather than a series of one-off events. In addition to the victim who was pushed onto the tracks earlier this week, commuters and tourists have suffered from random acts of violence in the city’s subway system.

In February, a tourist from Brazil was stabbed in the neck in an unprovoked attack at a subway station in Queens. Then, later that month, a man was killed on a train in the Bronx after a fight with three other passengers. Police said that man suffered injuries consistent with a gunshot or stab wound to the chest, though they were not certain.

Other assaults include a random, unprovoked attack on a musician in a Manhattan subway station, a non-fatal slashing attack which police are investigating as a possible hate crime, and a subway conductor who was stabbed in the neck as he pulled into a station.

On Thursday, Mayor Adams announced new initiatives to fight the growing crime in the subway system. At a press conference with NYPD commissioner Edward Caban, Adams unveiled a plan to install new portable gun scanners at several subway stations across the city and expand a program for mental health services.

“Keeping New Yorkers safe on the subway and maintaining confidence in the system is key to ensuring that New York remains the safest big city in America,” Adams said at a press conference. Adams billed the new scanners as part of his “ongoing efforts” to prevent weapons in the subway system and to address the mental health crisis.

But, the questions remains if Adams’ efforts will solve the crisis. The NYPD Chief of Transit believes there is another cause which has yet to be addressed. In a post to X at the beginning of this month, Chief Michael Kemper shared his thoughts, highlighting the prevalence of repeat offenders and calling out poor enforcement from prosecutors and lawmakers.

“If anyone is curious what your NYPD cops are doing … well … they’re doing their jobs!  They’ve arrested these 38 individuals a combined total of 1,126 times! The better question is why are they forced to arrest these people so many times & where are the consequences for their repeated illegal actions?” he asked.

New York had previously passed legislation for the most part eliminating cash bail requirements. According to The New York Times, Ms. Hochul insisted that “overall bail reform was needed,” arguing that “no one, regardless of money, should be incarcerated because they don’t have enough.” But she said she was motivated by increases in recidivism for some serious crimesciting data from the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, as well as her belief that “judges should have more authority to set bail and detain dangerous defendants.”

“Know this, the NYPD does NOT determine and/or impose consequences. That is the responsibility of the other stakeholders in the criminal justice system (lawmakers, judges, prosecutors),” Chief Kemper explained. “New Yorkers deserve better.”

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