The MTA Police force wants sleepy riders to pay more...

The MTA Police force wants sleepy riders to pay more attention to their surroundings because of an uptick in thefts. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Looking to address a rise in thefts onboard Long Island Rail Road trains, the MTA’s Police force wants sleepy commuters to keep a closer eye on their belongings.

The MTA intends to launch a public awareness campaign to educate passengers on the LIRR and sister railroad Metro-North on the importance of “situational awareness,” MTA Police Commissioner John Mueller said at a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board. The police would coordinate with customer service officials on the campaign.

The plan comes amid a recent rise in crime on the railroads, including onboard thefts. Through August, the LIRR saw a 124% increase in grand larcenies, from 17 in the first eight months of 2021 to 38 during the same period this year. Because of unusually low ridership during the pandemic, MTA Police officials said a better comparison is with 2019, during which there were 35 grand larcenies on the LIRR through August.

The majority of recent thefts involved “sleeping passengers or folks that lost their property and then it was taken,” Mueller said.

Syosset commuter Barry Gliner said he understands the police department’s push for heightened attentiveness, but also said it’s “unfair to demand we stay alert the entire ride.”

“Many of us Long Islanders who commute an hour or more like to grab a bit of shut-eye in the morning and evening,” said Gliner, who works in media and has been commuting on the LIRR for 26 years.

Gliner said he typically puts his bag on the overhead rack, but does worry that “another passenger could try and swipe it as they exit the train.” He tries not to put his bag on the seat next to him, and won’t put it on the floor because it’s “usually a mess.”

It’s not the first time that MTA Police has suggested that customer inattentiveness played a role in thefts. In April, MTA Police assistant chief Sean Montgomery said two grand larcenies were “attributed to actions of customers on board not paying proper attention to their items.”

In one, a woman left her purse on her seat as she used the restroom and found it missing when she returned, Montgomery said. In another, a passenger’s wallet was stolen while he was taking a nap.

Smithtown commuter Brian Schmitt, who once lost $400 worth of sneakers on an LIRR train, applauded the heightened police presence, but also acknowledged that riders could play a role in preventing thefts.

“Personal responsibility is lost on some,” Schmitt said.

To help address rising crimes on trains, the MTA Police announced Monday plans to create a unit of about 60 officers to patrol LIRR and Metro-North trains. The officers, working in pairs, will ride with commuters into New York City terminals during the morning rush hours, and back out in the evenings.

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