Crime scene tape on a track at the Ronkomoma LIRR...

Crime scene tape on a track at the Ronkomoma LIRR station. A recent Newsday analysis for 2023 found the railroad recorded 164 major crimes. Credit: James Carbone

Crime on the Long Island Rail Road is still, thankfully, scarce. Violent crime is “almost unheard of,” according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police's chief of operations, Thomas Taffe.

That's important for context, as there is a perception that the system is unsafe.

A recent Newsday analysis of LIRR crime statistics for 2023 found the railroad recorded 164 major crimes, a category that includes murder, rape, burglary, grand larceny, robbery, felony assault, and grand larceny auto. That's the highest number of such crimes since 2014. Crimes per million riders are up, too.

More than half of those incidents were grand larcenies. Often, MTA police said, individual riders weren't paying attention or were asleep and something was swiped. Also on the rise: assaults, which jumped from 23 in 2022 to 45 last year, with 19 of them against MTA employees. MTA officials say some of these assaults result from stepped-up efforts by conductors to collect fares and police officers attempting to enforce those collections. 

Combating fare evasion is key and the MTA rightly is taking steps to expand enforcement, even warning via its TrainTime app that riders who refuse to pay will be removed from the train, issued a summons, or arrested. All of that requires more effort from conductors and police officers, which puts them in more danger. They need to be kept safe, too. The MTA also must do as much as it can to address fare evasion recidivists on subways and commuter rails. Seeing repeat offenders get away with evading fares time and again sours the public's perception of safety and order in the system.

The major crime statistics for the LIRR translate to 2.52 major crimes per million riders. While no amount of crime is acceptable, those numbers should help riders recognize that the LIRR is, broadly, a safe public transportation system and that the MTA is taking steps to make riders feel safer. Riders can help by keeping their belongings with them and being respectful of conductors, police, and other workers.

But the MTA should do more. To start, the agency should provide a public dashboard of its incident numbers. A user-friendly look at crime statistics and safety measures on each LIRR line and at each station would better inform riders and communities. The MTA also should continue to crack down on those who attack its employees. Conductors shouldn't have to be afraid when they're walking trains and collecting fares. An added police presence definitely helps.

Encouraging more Long Islanders to take the LIRR starts with making it as safe as possible — and combating the perception that it's not. The MTA must do both at the same time.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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