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State AG Letitia James launches probe into NYPD fare evasion enforcement

New York State Attorney General Letitia James in

New York State Attorney General Letitia James in Manhattan on Jan. 7. Credit: Charles Eckert

New York State Attorney General Letitia James said Monday she was launching an investigation into whether the NYPD has been targeting communities of color for enforcement of subway fare evasion.

James said she had asked the NYPD for information about such enforcement in light of anecdotal evidence and claims by some current and former cops that the department once had an unofficial policy of targeting blacks and Hispanics for enforcement of fare evasion and other low level violations in the subway.  Such alleged practices may be continuing today, said James.

“Between October 2017 and June 2019 black and Hispanic New Yorkers received almost 70-percent of all civil summones for fare evasion, even though they only account for slightly more than half of the city’s population,” James stated, citing NYPD data. “During that same period , they made up nearly 90-percent of arrests for fare evasion.”

The NYPD compiles and releases fare evasion summons and arrests numbers for each quarter. In the second quarter of 2019, the most recent period available, the department logged 15,820 summonses with about 11,300 given to blacks and Hispanics.  Arrests in the period totaled 148, with 131 involving black and Hispanics, the data showed.  However, detailed information about arrests and summons for each station in the city was not part of the information released by the department.

Devora Kaye, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, released a statement saying: “The NYPD’s transit officers patrol day and night to keep six million daily riders safe and enforce the law fairly and equally without consideration of race or ethnicity.”

A spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association didn’t return a request for comment.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former member of the NYPD who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, questioned James’ suggestion that enforcement should be based on a racial and ethnic community’s percentage of the population.

O’Donnell emphasized that poorer segments of the population have a harder time paying the fare and that is more likely driving the higher enforcement numbers in minority communities of the city rather than racially targeted action by cops.

In her statement, James said her office was asking NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea to provide information about the number of officers assigned to every subway station, any arrangements between the NYPD and the MTA on evasion and information about training cops get about fare evasion.

A number of city officials, notably City Council speaker Corey Johnson and public advocate Jumaane Willliams , as well as Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams issued statements supporting James’s decision to conduct an inquiry. 

“I applaud Attorney General James for investigating this important issue,” said Johnson. “ For decades , law enforcement has disproportionately impacted communities of color and as we reform our criminal justice system we need to know if this practice is continuing with fare evasion.”

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