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New York to deploy 750 National Guard soldiers to check bags on subway

New York to deploy 750 National Guard soldiers to check bags on subway
A New Yorker next to a sign in English and Chinese on the New York subway urging people to get vaccinated. (Photo: An Wentzel)

NEW YORK, March 6 (Reuters) - New York Governor Kathy Hochul will deploy 750 soldiers from the state's National Guard to help New York City police check commuters' bags in the busiest stations in the city's sprawling subway system, she announced on Wednesday.

  • New York governor says deployment aimed at deterring crime
  • To deploy another 250 police officers
  • Comes after several high-profile assaults
  • Subway crime was down 15% in February vs same month in 2023

By Jonathan Allen

Another 250 officers from the New York State Police and the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police will also join the effort, which Hochul said was intended to deter crime. She announced the deployment in response to recent high-profile assaults on commuters and transit workers.

Crimes on the subway were down about 15% in February compared to the same month in 2023, according to police data. Hochul, a Democrat, said that commuters were not reassured by “rattling off” crime statistics.

“Saying things are getting better doesn’t make you feel better,” Hochul said, “especially when you’ve just heard about someone being stabbed in the throat or thrown onto the subway tracks. There’s a psychological impact.”

Soldiers of the New York National Guard, a military force jointly controlled by federal and state leaders, do not have arrest powers in peacetime, but will help police officers who do.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who used to patrol the subway when he was a police officer, said he sent about 1,000 additional city police officers into the subway in February after a January uptick in assaults and thefts.

He has emphasized that crime remains rare on one of the world’s largest subway networks, with about six felony crimes a day, mostly thefts, on a service that sees more than 4 million daily trips.

On Wednesday, he said he was bringing back bag checks, an occasional practice used by the New York Police Department in which officers set up a table near subway turnstiles and pick out members of the commuting crowds for searches.

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT

Riders Alliance, a New York commuter advocacy group, said Hochul’s deployment of the National Guard would have the opposite psychological impact than intended.

“While well-intentioned, deploying troops to the subway is more likely to increase the perception of crime among people who don’t ride public transit than to protect the millions of people on platforms and trains,” Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the alliance, wrote in an email.

There were 38 robberies and 70 thefts, including pick-pocketing, on the subway system in February, compared to 40 robberies and 98 thefts in the same month last year, according to police data. There were 35 assaults, the same number as for February 2023. About 90 million trips were taken on the subway over the month.

In her announcement, Hochul cited an attack last week on a subway train conductor who was slashed in the neck by an unknown assailant while he leaned his head out of a window on his train.

It was one of several recent assaults of subway workers in recent weeks, to the ire of their labor union, leading to service disruptions the following morning as MTA employees stopped work to file safety complaints.

Hochul said on Wednesday the MTA would install new security cameras in conductor cabins, and that she was asking the state legislature to pass a law allowing judges to ban people who assault workers and commuters from the subway system.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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