New York City police officers will no longer patrol subway stations in pairs, Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday.
“We’re not deploying police correctly,” Adams told reporters during a press conference.
The switch to solo patrols comes at a time of heightened anxiety in the city’s vast public transit system, with nearly 500 stations and 250 miles of train lines to monitor.
The mayor, a former NYPD captain, said he used to patrol by himself when he worked in the subways. Transit officers began patrolling in doubles “out of an overabundance of caution” after two police officers were killed in their squad car on Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn in 2014, he said, because the department feared a copycat attack. But the practice has continued in the eight years since.
“When we made every patrol a dual patrol, we cut our department basically in half,” Adams said. “By going back to single patrol, we’re now doubling the size, and you’re going to see the omnipresence and the confidence that riders are going to see based on that. It allows us to cover more ground.”
It was not a budget decision, the mayor said, but rather a solution that he and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell had agreed to after observing officers while traveling throughout city. He said the commissioner would be sharing additional plans to improve safety in the subways in the coming days. The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for more details and the mayor’s office said it would provide further information at a later date. It's unclear when the policy takes effect.
The police union immediately criticized the move. After the announcement, the Police Benevolent Association said the change would embolden people to fight cops and resist arrest, because there wouldn’t be someone to immediately back up officers. The union also warned that sending police into the subways alone would push people to leave the department. Hundreds of budgeted positions are already unfilled.
“We can’t fix the NYPD staffing crisis by spreading our overstretched resources even thinner,” PBA president Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. “New York City police officers are overburdened, underpaid and leaving in droves – this proposal will only accelerate that exodus.”
Several high-profile incidents have sparked calls for more safety measures in the subways, including the shoving death of Michelle Go in January, a mass shooting on the N train in April, a killing at a subway station in Jamaica, Queens a couple weeks later and a death on the train tracks Wednesday night. A recent Siena poll found that 85% of people surveyed supported having more police in the subways and about two-thirds were in favor of installing metal detectors at the entrances of train stops.
The city assigned an extra 500 officers to the transit bureau last winter and 250 more in the spring as ridership gradually increased following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mayor and Gov. Kathy Hochul also came together earlier this year to launch a new plan to tamp down on crime and homelessness underground, which included sending outreach workers into the subways to try to convince people to sleep in city shelters instead of on the subway.
However, some have criticized these responses, urging city leaders to invest in alternative options to make public transportation safer, like shortening intervals between trains and hiring non-law enforcement workers to put people at ease in the stations.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Dorothy Schulz, who served as commanding officer at Grand Central Station for Metro-North Railroad Police, told Gothamist she expects Adams’ new plan will have “a very hard sell within the department.”
Schulz noted that it could be difficult for officers to communicate underground with outdated radios, which means they could be stuck on their own during an emergency. She said the key to safer subways is better supervision and deployment strategies, to ensure that officers aren’t bunching together. Subway riders want to feel safe, she said.
“People are very frightened about the thought of being pushed on the tracks or in a subway car with somebody who’s mentally unstable and acting in a dangerous way,” Schulz said. “In a subway car, where can you go?“