Newsday
June 13, 2005

PBA: Subway rape could have been avoided

BY JOSHUA ROBIN AND ROCCO PARASCANDOLA STAFF WRITERS

Police staffing around a Long Island City subway station where a woman was recently raped has dipped by a total 18 percent in the past four years, according to statistics from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The drop led to suggestions yesterday from the union that the June 7 rape at the 21st Street/Van Alst station might have been prevented had more cops been on the beat.

"This dramatizes here exactly what can happen when you allow the staffing levels to become so dangerously low," PBA President Patrick Lynch told a news conference at the station.

PBA statistics show that in 2001, there were 260 officers assigned to the NYPD transit district covering the station; it now is 210. In 2001, there were 144 officers in the 108th precinct, which backs up emergencies in the station. It's now 120.

Such reductions, ordered as the city sought to reduce expenses, have not yielded an increase in subway crime, which is down 12 percent since 2001, according to NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne.But had more officers been on the force, one might have been able to intervene in the sexual assault of the 21-year old woman shortly before 3 a.m., Lynch and others suggested. A police booth at the southern end of the platform was unmanned at the time.

A token booth clerk heard screams for help, but wa barred under NYC Transit rules from leaving his booth.After the transit command center was notified of the crime in progress, a patrol car was dispatched within two minutes. Police say it arrived at the station in 34 seconds.

Nolan and Ed Watt, the secretary-treasurer of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, also criticized as a threat to safety and riders' comfort the MTA plans to reduce staffing aboard trains.

Beginning next Sunday, conductors will be removed on the L train during nights and weekends. With train operators the only uniformed crew member aboard, critics worry there will be a shortage of help in emergencies.

"It has to be said: If we don't have the manpower, the professional people in the system, we're not going to have a safe system," said Assemb. Catherine Nolan, a Democrat who represents the area.

NYC Transit officials have stressed that they do not think rider safety will be jeopardized by the move.

"The safety and well-being of our customers remain the prime focus of MTA/NYC Transit," said spokesman Charles Seaton.