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National Guard and State Police Will Patrol the Subways and Check Bags

National Guard and State Police Will Patrol the Subways and Check Bags

Hundreds of National Guard soldiers and State Police officers will patrol the New York City subway platforms and check riders’ bags beginning this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday.

A large show of force in the system, which is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency, will help commuters and visitors feel safe, Ms. Hochul said.

Subway safety is a constant concern in New York City, where the system’s recovery is critical to the city’s rebound from the pandemic, and public officials can be as sensitive to the perception that mass transit is dangerous as they are to an actual rise in crime.

The additional law enforcement officers would add to an already large police presence in the subways, where Mayor Eric Adams ordered an additional 1,000 officers in February following a 45 percent spike in major crimes in January compared with the same time last year.

Grand larcenies — thefts without the use of force — were a main driver of the January spike in crime, according to the police. They are defined by the police as major crimes, along with homicides, assaults and robberies.

After crime rates retreated in February, the overall rise in major crimes for the year as of March 3 was 13 percent, Police Department data shows.

Ms. Hochul said she would deploy 1,000 members of the State Police, the National Guard and the transportation authority to “conduct bag checks in the city’s busiest stations.” The additional security personnel were expected to begin appearing in the subway system by the evening rush hour on Wednesday.

Riders have the right to refuse to have their bag checked, Ms. Hochul said, but officers can then deny them access to the subway.

The governor declined to specify how long the measure would be in place, saying she did not want to tip off criminals.

The announcement came as Democrats are trying to fend off concerns about crime ahead of the November election. In 2022, Republicans used the issue to clinch wins across the state in congressional races.

Since then, Democrats have walked a fine line, aiming to respond to voters’ public safety concerns without stoking fears about crime that could hand Republicans talking points.

The safety efforts were also announced about a week after New York City Transit workers stopped performing their duties during the morning commute after an overnight slashing attack on an A train that injured a conductor.

“These brazen heinous attacks on our subway system will not be tolerated,” Ms. Hochul said.

On Wednesday, less than two hours after Ms. Hochul made her announcement, a female conductor on a southbound No. 4 train said she was hit with a glass bottle as the train was pulling away from 170th Street station in the Bronx. The man who hit her fled, and no arrests had yet been made, the police said. The conductor was in stable condition.

Ms. Hochul’s announcement drew outrage from civil libertarians, who called the move an overreach that would infringe on the rights of commuters, but the union representing the city’s transit workers applauded it as “the beginning of real action.”

Still, Richard Davis, the president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, said that the plan did not go far enough.

“We will not be pacified,” Mr. Davis said in a statement. The surge “cannot be just a temporary measure,” he said. “It must remain in place.”

Under the governor’s plan, 750 members of the New York National Guard and an additional 250 personnel from the State Police and the M.T.A. will be scattered across the transit system, working with the New York Police Department. The governor said part of their focus would be to keep weapons out of the subway system.

“No one heading to their job or to visit family or go to a doctor appointment should worry that the person sitting next to them possesses a deadly weapon,” the governor said.

The National Guard often patrols major transportation hubs like Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. After the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, the Guard was sent to patrol the subways as officials watched for any terrorism threats.

The deployment is part of what Ms. Hochul described as a five-point plan, which would provide $20 million to pay for 10 teams of mental health workers who would help people on the subway. The plan would also introduce bills, which would have to be approved by the State Legislature, that would allow judges to ban people convicted of a violent crime from riding the subways, add cameras to train conductors’ control booths and coordinate with prosecutors to track repeat offenders.

Ms. Hochul said the mental health teams, which were formed in January, would respond to the “most severe cases of mental health crisis” and help New Yorkers get access to treatment and housing with social services.

But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Ms. Hochul’s announcement failed to address “longstanding problems of homelessness, poverty or access to mental health care.”

Instead, the governor is leaning on “heavy-handed approaches” that could be used to profile Black and Latino people, she said.

“Calling out the National Guard in response to a small number of admittedly serious incidents is still off the charts,” Ms. Lieberman said.

On Wednesday, some commuters said they felt uncomfortable about the idea of the police and Guardsmen checking bags. April Glad, 62, said she rarely feels afraid and called the policies an attempt at “fearmongering.”

“I ride the subway all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, and I don’t want the National Guard on the subway. I’ve felt safe,” she said. Politicians “whip people up with fears that aren’t real, that aren’t based on anything.”

Chris Jackson, 44, who has lived in New York for 20 years, described himself as “definitely apprehensive” at the idea of a heavier law enforcement presence.

“I mean we already have the N.Y.P.D. going around,” he said. “I just feel like it’s going too far. Where does it stop?”

But Julia Mercurio, a 26-year-old tourist from Poland, said she has seen heavy security and bag checks at metro stations in European cities.

“It seems more protected than here from what I’ve seen, so I guess it makes sense to have random bag checks,” she said.

In mid-2022, there was about one violent crime for every one million rides on the subway, according to a New York Times analysis, making the chances of falling victim to such a crime remote. Since then, those chances have become even lower, as the crime rate in the transit system has fallen and ridership has increased.

Still, the governor’s deployment comes as statistics show a murkier picture this year: Three homicides have taken place since January, and several brutal assaults, including the slashing of the conductor, have once again raised questions about safety.

The number of major crimes committed in the transit system so far this year was about 3 percent lower than it was at this time in 2019, before the pandemic, when more riders used the system, department statistics show.

Before the pandemic, there were five million people on the subways every day. There are now about three million daily riders, according to M.T.A. figures.

As the city continues to come back from the pandemic, Mayor Adams has said that he wants to see an “omnipresence” of police officers on the subways. He was not at the news conference with Ms. Hochul, a departure from previous announcements when the two have stood side by side to announce public safety plans.

A spokesman for Ms. Hochul said she invited the mayor but he could not appear because of a scheduling conflict. A spokesman for Mr. Adams, who made seven media appearances on Wednesday morning, said the mayor had to attend a funeral.

Mr. Adams has pressed the governor to provide extra state funds so the city could pay police officers overtime to patrol the subway system. Ms. Hochul has not met the mayor’s request, and on Wednesday, offered the National Guard and state police as an alternative to the city’s overtime plan.

“Rather than having the N.Y.P.D. have to work being paid by state dollars, I said, let me do something even better,” the governor said on Wednesday.

During his media interviews, Mr. Adams, along with Michael Kemper, the chief of the transit division for the Police Department, sought to blame the subway crimes on a handful of repeat offenders. On NY1, the mayor held up a poster board that stated that 38 people accused of assaulting transit employees last year had also been accused of committing more than 1,100 other crimes.

“We don’t have a surge in crime,” Mr. Adams said. “We have a surge in recidivism.”

Transit experts worried that the extra vigilance in the subways could have the opposite of its intended effect, making riders more fearful rather than reassured.

“Deploying troops to the subway will unfortunately increase the perception of crime,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group.

“The police can’t solve every problem,” he said.

Chelsia Rose Marcius, Erin Nolan, Jeffery C. Mays, Grace Ashford and Wesley Parnell contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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