|Monday, February 8, 2016 5:45 pm|
By MARK TOOR
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton last week rejected contentions that the public should be alarmed by an epidemic of slashings in the subway, saying that only one of them was random and the rest stemmed from disputes or robberies.
“These are individual incidents,” agreed Mayor de Blasio, who shared the podium Feb. 3 at a Police Headquarters press conference. “This is not a pattern here.”
Only One Unprovoked?
Chief of Transit Joseph Fox said the only motiveless attack this year was on a 71-year-old woman slashed across the cheek on a D train that was pulling into the Broadway-Lafayette station Jan. 25. “She took the train to work the next day,” he said.
Damon Knowles, 21, was arrested the next day after a relative of his girlfriend recognized him from an image from a surveillance video taken at the station. He was charged with assault.
Most of the attacks, Mr. Fox said, “are two people having some kind of exchange and one becomes violent.”
The press conference was billed as the regular monthly report on crime statistics, but the presence of Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Fox indicated that city leaders were concerned about public reaction to the slashings.
The New York Times reported Jan. 27 that at least 10 slashing attacks had occurred in recent months. Mr. Fox told the paper that there had been incidents in which there was “absolutely no prior contact.” The Times reported at least two and possibly four random attacks.
Bratton: Perception Wrong
But Mr. Bratton insisted there was no trend, squelching a series of questions from a television reporter asking why there were so many subway knifings. “I know what you’re doing,” he said.
“This is one of those cases where public perception and the facts are two different things,” Mr. de Blasio added.
Although they denied there was a pattern of attacks, NYPD officials said they were sending more police officers underground.
“What you’ll be seeing in the next couple of weeks is additional uniforms in the subway,” said Chief of Department James P. O’Neill. Rather than add plainclothes officers, he said, the emphasis was on those in uniform to create “high visibility” and act as a deterrent. Special squads will be assigned to do “complete inspections” of stations and trains, he added.
Special Unit Coming In
The Transit Bureau will be supplemented with additional overtime funds and with officers from the new Strategic Response Group, who are heavily-armed personnel generally assigned to counterterrorism work and demonstrations, he said.
Mr. Bratton indicated a greater concern about people sleeping on the subway and leaving themselves open to being robbed or having their bags snatched.
“Subways are not for sleeping,” said Mr. Bratton, playing off the title of a 1961 musical about homelessness on the trains. “Our officers are going to be instructed to wake people up…Why put yourself at risk for robbery or sexual assault?”
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said that wasn’t enough to deal with crime in the subways.
“Waking sleeping passengers on a train is an attempt to conceal the fact that we don’t have enough police officers,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “Those who prey on sleeping passengers—what we call lush-workers—do so over and over again, and there simply aren’t enough officers assigned in the Transit Bureau to keep them in check.
‘A Band-Aid Approach’
“The NYPD is understaffed, and temporarily taking resources from other functions and putting them in the subway is a Band-Aid approach and not a real solution,” he continued.
Mr. Bratton said that with the drop in crime over the past few years, the NYPD had more resources and sufficient focus to jump on crimes as they occurred, and the resulting publicity about the subway slashings might be fueling public anxiety.
The issue of attacks on the subways overshadowed the main point of the press conference, which was that index crimes—major offenses such as homicide, robbery and rape—were down in January from the same month in 2015. “In terms of overall crime numbers for January, we believe we have the best year ever,” Mr. Bratton said.
Mr. de Blasio said murders were down 45 percent this January over a year earlier, shootings declined 34 percent and total index crime was down 10 percent.
Steady Drop in Shootings
Mr. Bratton said a trend for the year would not be established until three or four months had passed. But Dermot Shea, the Deputy Commissioner who oversees crime statistics, said shootings—a major concern in the first half of last year—had declined in seven of the previous eight months.
Chief of Detectives Robert K. Boyce said that 12 of the 22 homicides in January had already been closed with arrests and that Detectives had identified suspects in three more. “The decline in homicides gives us more resources to investigate the ones we have,” he said.
Mr. Shea said felony assaults had increased 18 percent in January compared to 12 months earlier. “That is the one major outlier,” he said.
Of the 257 assaults last month, he said, 100 did not victimize civilians. “A significant uptick in arrests” resulted in 50 additional complaints of assaults by police officers making them, and 50 more assaults came from Rikers Island, where the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has established an outpost to speed the arrests of inmates who attack correction officers and fellow prisoners.
Mr. Fox said that 4.8 crimes a day were committed on the subways in 2015. For January of this year, he said, the figure was 6.65, and his bureau is working on getting that down.
In terms of numbers, he said, six slashings were reported on the subways this year compared with three in 2015, and four stabbings were reported compared with two last year.
Curtis Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels citizens’ subway patrol in the bad old days of high subway crime in 1979, said roughly 150 Angels have been patrolling lines around the city, and around the clock, since Feb. 1. The unarmed volunteers generally patrol in groups, distinguished by their signature red berets. The group had not patrolled the subways on a regular basis since the mid-1990s.
Mr. Sliwa, who is now a TV and radio commentator, said that the NYPD is not assigning enough officers to patrol the trains and that riders had encouraged the Angels to return. “There’s an aggressiveness that’s taking place in the subways that hasn’t taken place for quite some time,” he told Time magazine. “My sense over the years is that we’re beginning to slip back.”