The NYPD has significantly expanded its police presence in city subways and plans to roll out a newer, more reliable radio system to help cops deal with the perception and reality of increased crime on the rails.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton joined other officials to announce the beefed up steps on the same day they said the city experienced one of its safest Februarys in more than two decades, despite several subway slashings and stabbings that have straphangers on edge.
“Not only do you have to keep people safe, you have to make them feel safe,” said NYPD Chief of Department James P. O’Neill, who worked as a transit officer in 1983. “People seeing uniform cops in the system, they feel safe.”
Officials couldn’t give precise a number of cops — some from the NYPD’s new Strategic Response and Critical Response groups — now patrolling platforms and making spot train checks. Transit Police Chief Joseph Fox said the increase in officers is substantial.
“Every hour in our system there are more cops out there than there were a couple of months ago,” Fox told reporters.
He said the number of officers dispatched to the city’s vast subway system fluctuates depending on need.
After a record low number of subway crimes in January, 2015 — an average of 4.8 per day, police saw an increase to 6.7 per day during the first month of 2016, according to NYPD statistics. Fox attributed the increase largely to electronic devices and other items stolen from passengers often unaware of the thefts until they get off a train. He said the city saw a reduction in subway crime in February to 6.2 a day on average.
For years cops had been dogged by a substandard VHF radio system that often malfunctioned and had numerous dead spots. It is being replaced by a UHF system. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who served as a transit officer, said communication was so poor cops threw nightsticks down subway stairways to alert crews when an officer needed assistance.
“We were so close to just two cups and a string, hoping that would communicate with our counterparts in a call for help,” Adams said. “This is an amazing benchmark on a game changer in policing.”
The impact of poor radio communications for police in the subway was underscored by Bratton — once chief of the city’s transit police — as he recounted how transit officer Irma Lozado, 25, couldn’t call for help during a 1984 incident where she chased a suspect before later being found dead in a field.
About $100 million in Metropolitan Transportation Authority money is funding the new radio system, the police commissioner said. The upgraded radios are already used in the Bronx and are being tested in Manhattan, de Blasio said. Citywide coverage is planned by the summer.
Officials said cellphone coverage for about 147 underground subway stations is also imminent.
The NYPD saw a drop in violent crime in February that neared record lows — including 17 killings and 57 shootings — since modern record keeping began in 1994, de Blasio said.
“I want to commend the men and women of the NYPD for another very, very strong month,” de Blasio said.