Commuters say they are concerned about their safety as major crime rises on the Long Island Rail Road. Newsday transportation reporter Alfonso Castillo reports.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; YouTube/ MTA

The crime rate on the Long Island Rail Road in 2023 reached its highest point in at least 18 years, with assaults nearly doubling from the previous year, including more attacks on railroad employees, MTA Police statistics obtained by Newsday show.

Though major crimes are still rare, with less than one every other day in a system that carries more than 65 million riders annually, the statistics emerge as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues to wrestle with many commuters' concerns about safety in the transit system. Gov. Kathy Hochul cited perceptions about safety as one of her reasons to indefinitely pause the MTA's congestion pricing plan, the toll aimed at encouraging New Yorkers to use public transportation.

MTA officials continue to reassure riders about their safety and have suggested that, rather than a rise in crime, the statistics are evidence of stepped-up police enforcement in the LIRR system.

In March, Newsday submitted an open records request to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority seeking the number of major crimes reported each year on the LIRR for as far back as police kept statistics. MTA Police responded with data going back to 2006, when there were 116 major crimes reported on the LIRR.

According to the data, the LIRR recorded 164 major crimes in 2023, the most since 2014 and 21% above the 18-year annual average of 135. MTA Police define major crimes as murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto. More than half the major crime incidents were grand larceny — a trend MTA Police have attributed to riders not minding their belongings.

The LIRR also saw a rise in burglaries, which at 16 doubled from the previous year. Burglaries entail unlawfully entering a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime.

The increase in crime is more pronounced when adjusted for ridership, which last year was down 28% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Measured per rider, major crime on the LIRR last year was the highest since at least 2006 and about 38% above the 18-year-average.

At about 2.52 major crimes per million riders, the LIRR’s rate was higher than that of the New York City subway system, which last year recorded about 1.99 such crimes per million riders, according to MTA and NYPD statistics.

MTA Police, in their response to Newsday's records request, noted through February of this year, while the number of major crimes remained similar to that of the first two months of 2023, the rate per passenger fell by 14%.

“Violent crime is almost unheard of on the LIRR, with an average of one incident recorded every five days in all of last year across the entire railroad from Penn Station and Grand Central Madison to Montauk,” MTA Police Chief of Operations Thomas Taffe said in a statement. “In some of the more recent cases, the victims were police officers, who have been more actively pursuing fare evasion enforcement.”

The rise in major crime on the LIRR last year contributes to “an impression of a lack of safety on the LIRR,” said Jason Ostrowe, assistant professor of criminal justice at St. Joseph's University in Patchogue.

He added: “While changes in the number of reported crimes is concerning, LIRR riders should take comfort in the fact that violent crime is an exceptionally rare occurrence considering the number of people who use the LIRR annually.”

The biggest year-over-year jump in 2023 came in assaults, which at 45 was the most in at least 18 years. It was also nearly double the 23 assaults committed in 2022 on the LIRR.

The rise in assaults came in the same year that MTA Police increased patrols on trains, in part to address concerns over fare evasion. The number of summonses issued for fare nonpayment on the LIRR more than doubled from 321 in 2022 to 698 last year. Fare-beating arrests on the LIRR also rose substantially, from 55 in 2022 to 194 in 2023.

At a March meeting of the MTA Board’s railroad committee, MTA Police Chief John Mueller said the rise in assaults is “an understandable result of that increased enforcement.”

A greater number of cops on trains means a greater likelihood of confrontations with unruly passengers — confrontations that sometimes escalate to assaults on police or train crew members, MTA officials have said.

According to MTA Police statistics, there were 19 reported assaults against MTA employees in 2023, up from 10 the previous year. Gerard Bringmann, a nonvoting LIRR riders' representative on the MTA Board, said he believes “the greater the police presence, the greater the opportunity to catch people in the act doing something.”

“I don’t doubt the statistics,” said Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, addressing the rising crime figures. “But I don’t think there’s a ridership perception of being unsafe.”

Anthony Simon, who heads the union representing LIRR conductors, said assaults on MTA workers are “an ongoing concern.” He called on prosecutors to seek “strict consequences” for offenders “to put an end to any further increases in crime.”

MTA Board member Sammy Chu, of Lindenhurst, called for a “more aggressive” approach to dealing with repeat offenders, including by making use of existing laws allowing for MTA-wide bans for riders convicted of assaults in the transit system and by pushing for stronger laws.

Still, Chu also believes the LIRR system is safe. He said one reason the railroad's crime rate is higher than that of the subways is because of the “dilutive effect” of the subways carrying more than 17 times as many riders as the LIRR. Chu likened it to the difference between a crime occurring in a packed Madison Square Garden as compared to Mulcahy's, a much smaller Wantagh music venue.

Speaking while waiting for her train at the Mineola station recently, Rita Mercante said she's “never felt unsafe” riding the LIRR but has noticed heightened tensions lately on trains, including conductors confronting “belligerent” riders who refuse to pay their fares or get off a train car.

“It can make you very tense,” said Mercante, 62, a Mineola resident and psychotherapist, who feels “safer” when she sees a cop on her train.

“They know how to handle the situation,” she said. “They're trained. I'm not.”

Although grand larcenies on the LIRR, at 77, were the highest since 2015, Mueller in February said that's mostly because “people are not looking over their stuff.” He noted the railroad was developing a marketing campaign to advise customers to “keep an eye on things and try not to doze off.”

Grand larceny is the non-forceful theft of property valued at least at $1,000 — roughly the cost of an iPhone15 Pro.

Ostrowe noted crime is “historically underreported by the public” and that other resources, like victim surveys and police reports, would help provide a more complete depiction of crime on the LIRR. 

Commuters have been more vocal about their safety concerns riding the New York City subway system, even though, as Newsday reported in March, NYPD stats show that subway crime remains at historic lows, with the 2,285 felonies committed last year being 63% lower than in 1997.

Still, MTA, New York City and state officials have in recent months sought to alleviate fears over transit crime, including by deploying some MTA Police officers into the subways. The 1,200 member MTA Police force is primarily responsible for patrolling the transit agency's two commuter railroads, the LIRR and Metro-North, while the NYPD patrols subways.

Although MTA officials have said no cops typically assigned to patrol the LIRR would be pulled for the new duties, David Mack, the Nassau County representative to the MTA Board, raised concerns about “taking men and women off their regular posts and putting them into the subways.”

“You can't take from Peter to pay Paul,” said Mack, an assistant commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department. He's called for more cops on the LIRR to address rising crime.

Mack believes MTA officials should push for stricter enforcement of scofflaws, like fare evaders. “When they beat the fare, they move on to higher crimes … It's human nature.”

Asked if he has any concerns about his safety in the transit system, Forest Hills commuter Kevin Sun replied, “Not on the Long Island Rail Road.”

Sun, 41, said LIRR conductors are “really good” with dealing with problematic passengers. 

“That's the No. 1 reason that a lot of my friends who used to take the subway have opted to take the Long Island Rail Road — to avoid situations like that,” Sun said.

 Commuters’ unease about crime in the MTA system was brought up by Hochul in defending her decision to no longer support the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City this summer. Hochul said state officials “thought people would feel more secure” about using transit by now.

Deer Park commuter Monica Lyons was among those who believed pushing people to take the train rather than their cars to Manhattan could make matters worse. “How [are] the police going to be able to handle that?” Lyons said. “That’s going to mean more felonies, more crime, I believe.”

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald X. Clavin Jr., who last month sued the MTA to try to halt congestion pricing, noted Hochul’s deployment of National Guard troops in March to address crime in the subways “speaks volumes” about the state of the transit system, including on the LIRR.

“That’s why people are choosing to drive in," Clavin said. "And trying to force more people into the system is not going to solve the underlying issue.”

The crime rate on the Long Island Rail Road in 2023 reached its highest point in at least 18 years, with assaults nearly doubling from the previous year, including more attacks on railroad employees, MTA Police statistics obtained by Newsday show.

Though major crimes are still rare, with less than one every other day in a system that carries more than 65 million riders annually, the statistics emerge as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues to wrestle with many commuters' concerns about safety in the transit system. Gov. Kathy Hochul cited perceptions about safety as one of her reasons to indefinitely pause the MTA's congestion pricing plan, the toll aimed at encouraging New Yorkers to use public transportation.

MTA officials continue to reassure riders about their safety and have suggested that, rather than a rise in crime, the statistics are evidence of stepped-up police enforcement in the LIRR system.

In March, Newsday submitted an open records request to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority seeking the number of major crimes reported each year on the LIRR for as far back as police kept statistics. MTA Police responded with data going back to 2006, when there were 116 major crimes reported on the LIRR.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The LIRR saw a significant increase in reported crime in 2023. The 164 reported major crimes were the most since 2014, and the rate per rider was the highest in at least 18 years, according to MTA Police statistics.
  • There was a significant increase in burglaries, assaults and grand larcenies — many of which police have attributed to riders not minding their belongings.
  • MTA Police officials have said the rise in assaults is due, in part, to increased police presence on trains, which can lead to more frequent confrontations with riders. Of the 45 assaults last year, 19 were against MTA employees.

According to the data, the LIRR recorded 164 major crimes in 2023, the most since 2014 and 21% above the 18-year annual average of 135. MTA Police define major crimes as murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto. More than half the major crime incidents were grand larceny — a trend MTA Police have attributed to riders not minding their belongings.

The LIRR also saw a rise in burglaries, which at 16 doubled from the previous year. Burglaries entail unlawfully entering a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime.

The increase in crime is more pronounced when adjusted for ridership, which last year was down 28% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Measured per rider, major crime on the LIRR last year was the highest since at least 2006 and about 38% above the 18-year-average.

At about 2.52 major crimes per million riders, the LIRR’s rate was higher than that of the New York City subway system, which last year recorded about 1.99 such crimes per million riders, according to MTA and NYPD statistics.

MTA Police, in their response to Newsday's records request, noted through February of this year, while the number of major crimes remained similar to that of the first two months of 2023, the rate per passenger fell by 14%.

“Violent crime is almost unheard of on the LIRR, with an average of one incident recorded every five days in all of last year across the entire railroad from Penn Station and Grand Central Madison to Montauk,” MTA Police Chief of Operations Thomas Taffe said in a statement. “In some of the more recent cases, the victims were police officers, who have been more actively pursuing fare evasion enforcement.”

The rise in major crime on the LIRR last year contributes to “an impression of a lack of safety on the LIRR,” said Jason Ostrowe, assistant professor of criminal justice at St. Joseph's University in Patchogue.

He added: “While changes in the number of reported crimes is concerning, LIRR riders should take comfort in the fact that violent crime is an exceptionally rare occurrence considering the number of people who use the LIRR annually.”

The biggest year-over-year jump in 2023 came in assaults, which at 45 was the most in at least 18 years. It was also nearly double the 23 assaults committed in 2022 on the LIRR.

The rise in assaults came in the same year that MTA Police increased patrols on trains, in part to address concerns over fare evasion. The number of summonses issued for fare nonpayment on the LIRR more than doubled from 321 in 2022 to 698 last year. Fare-beating arrests on the LIRR also rose substantially, from 55 in 2022 to 194 in 2023.

At a March meeting of the MTA Board’s railroad committee, MTA Police Chief John Mueller said the rise in assaults is “an understandable result of that increased enforcement.”

A greater number of cops on trains means a greater likelihood of confrontations with unruly passengers — confrontations that sometimes escalate to assaults on police or train crew members, MTA officials have said.

According to MTA Police statistics, there were 19 reported assaults against MTA employees in 2023, up from 10 the previous year. Gerard Bringmann, a nonvoting LIRR riders' representative on the MTA Board, said he believes “the greater the police presence, the greater the opportunity to catch people in the act doing something.”

“I don’t doubt the statistics,” said Bringmann, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, addressing the rising crime figures. “But I don’t think there’s a ridership perception of being unsafe.”

Anthony Simon, who heads the union representing LIRR conductors, said assaults on MTA workers are “an ongoing concern.” He called on prosecutors to seek “strict consequences” for offenders “to put an end to any further increases in crime.”

MTA Board member Sammy Chu, of Lindenhurst, called for a “more aggressive” approach to dealing with repeat offenders, including by making use of existing laws allowing for MTA-wide bans for riders convicted of assaults in the transit system and by pushing for stronger laws.

Still, Chu also believes the LIRR system is safe. He said one reason the railroad's crime rate is higher than that of the subways is because of the “dilutive effect” of the subways carrying more than 17 times as many riders as the LIRR. Chu likened it to the difference between a crime occurring in a packed Madison Square Garden as compared to Mulcahy's, a much smaller Wantagh music venue.

Rita Mercante, at the LIRR's Mineola station, has noticed heightened...

Rita Mercante, at the LIRR's Mineola station, has noticed heightened tensions recently on trains.

Speaking while waiting for her train at the Mineola station recently, Rita Mercante said she's “never felt unsafe” riding the LIRR but has noticed heightened tensions lately on trains, including conductors confronting “belligerent” riders who refuse to pay their fares or get off a train car.

“It can make you very tense,” said Mercante, 62, a Mineola resident and psychotherapist, who feels “safer” when she sees a cop on her train.

“They know how to handle the situation,” she said. “They're trained. I'm not.”

Although grand larcenies on the LIRR, at 77, were the highest since 2015, Mueller in February said that's mostly because “people are not looking over their stuff.” He noted the railroad was developing a marketing campaign to advise customers to “keep an eye on things and try not to doze off.”

Grand larceny is the non-forceful theft of property valued at least at $1,000 — roughly the cost of an iPhone15 Pro.

Ostrowe noted crime is “historically underreported by the public” and that other resources, like victim surveys and police reports, would help provide a more complete depiction of crime on the LIRR. 

Commuters have been more vocal about their safety concerns riding the New York City subway system, even though, as Newsday reported in March, NYPD stats show that subway crime remains at historic lows, with the 2,285 felonies committed last year being 63% lower than in 1997.

Still, MTA, New York City and state officials have in recent months sought to alleviate fears over transit crime, including by deploying some MTA Police officers into the subways. The 1,200 member MTA Police force is primarily responsible for patrolling the transit agency's two commuter railroads, the LIRR and Metro-North, while the NYPD patrols subways.

Although MTA officials have said no cops typically assigned to patrol the LIRR would be pulled for the new duties, David Mack, the Nassau County representative to the MTA Board, raised concerns about “taking men and women off their regular posts and putting them into the subways.”

“You can't take from Peter to pay Paul,” said Mack, an assistant commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department. He's called for more cops on the LIRR to address rising crime.

Mack believes MTA officials should push for stricter enforcement of scofflaws, like fare evaders. “When they beat the fare, they move on to higher crimes … It's human nature.”

Kevin Sun, of Forest Hills, is not concerned about crime...

Kevin Sun, of Forest Hills, is not concerned about crime on the LIRR.

Asked if he has any concerns about his safety in the transit system, Forest Hills commuter Kevin Sun replied, “Not on the Long Island Rail Road.”

Sun, 41, said LIRR conductors are “really good” with dealing with problematic passengers. 

“That's the No. 1 reason that a lot of my friends who used to take the subway have opted to take the Long Island Rail Road — to avoid situations like that,” Sun said.

 Commuters’ unease about crime in the MTA system was brought up by Hochul in defending her decision to no longer support the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City this summer. Hochul said state officials “thought people would feel more secure” about using transit by now.

Deer Park commuter Monica Lyons was among those who believed pushing people to take the train rather than their cars to Manhattan could make matters worse. “How [are] the police going to be able to handle that?” Lyons said. “That’s going to mean more felonies, more crime, I believe.”

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald X. Clavin Jr., who last month sued the MTA to try to halt congestion pricing, noted Hochul’s deployment of National Guard troops in March to address crime in the subways “speaks volumes” about the state of the transit system, including on the LIRR.

“That’s why people are choosing to drive in," Clavin said. "And trying to force more people into the system is not going to solve the underlying issue.”

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