The NYPD has taken fire (literally and figuratively) from all fronts lately. But to see how hard it is to keep New Yorkers safe, look at the latest subway-crime stats.
Transit crime is up: Major felonies in May were 12.2 percent higher than in May 2011. For the year, they’re up 16.9 percent.
This crime is largely thefts—with the perps either "grabbing and going," or using threats to forcibly take something. Grand larceny (stealing) is up 19.1 percent for the year, and robbery’s up 20.3 percent, with 1,029 crimes across both categories.
What robbers and thieves want is tech stuff. Straphangers are casual about brandishing iPads, iPhones and other gadgets—which often sell on the street for more than their sticker price.
And while tech addicts are working or gaming, they’re not paying attention to their other belongings—wallets with credit cards.
New Yorkers might take comfort in that the crime isn’t violent. No one got murdered on city subways this winter or spring, same as last year. But every theft carries the potential for violence. A victim could chase his assailant—and end up stabbed. (Cops confiscated 19 knives in just one recent week.)
Old-time New Yorkers may figure that people who brandish this expensive stuff are practically asking to get robbed. Mayor Bloomberg hinted at this sentiment last month, saying: "If the worst problem we have is iPhone stealing—and Ray [Kelly, the NYPD commissioner], you’d better get on this iPhone right away, this is serious—you know, there’s always going to be some of that." He also mentioned tech-toters’ "cavalier" attitude, and claimed that auto theft is a better gauge of property crime.
The MTA is trying to alert riders to be more careful, with a new ad campaign admonishing us, "Don’t be a target of opportunity!"
Yet the tech-steal surge hints at a problem. The mayor wants Gotham to be tech city—and he’s pushed quality-of-life as a selling point for entrepreneurs who don’t have to be here because they’re chained to Goldman Sachs and their limo-riding bosses.
Hello, Mr. Mayor: Tech workers carry. . . tech tools. And many of them don’t have—or want—cars, so they ride the subway. A big quality-of-life point is to work or play on your commute.
The MTA nods to this, rolling out a new wi-fi program at six subway stations in Chelsea through the end of summer. "Riders can maintain their digital lifestyle—connecting to the Internet with smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other wireless devices," the agency proudly notes.
So, what—are people supposed to maintain their digital lifestyles while hunched over looking for robbers, "pay[ing] attention to their surroundings" to "safeguard your stuff," as the anti-theft campaign (announced on the same day as the wi-fi deal) urges?
No, people shouldn’t be idiots—but it’s not always clear what that means. "Surroundings" on the subway are a cacophony of chaos.
In short, things change—and sometimes even good changes require more police resources, not less.
On that note, you can’t even chalk this one up to fewer cops. Yes, severe cuts in staffing have left the NYPD down by 4,321 people from a decade ago. But the transit police, who handle subways (not buses) is biggertoday, with 3,178, up from 3,047 a decade ago.
Yet staffing isn’t enough if the police can’t do their jobs underground. Late one night (4 a.m.) last month, transit cops spotted two guys entering the Union Square subway station on just one "swipe." The officers stopped and searched them—and came up with two loaded guns and a bulletproof vest.
This year, fare-evasion summonses are up 10.4 percent, as cops often use such stops to deter bigger crimes.
If judges keep curtailing stops and searches, as a state appeals court did last week in throwing out the arrest of a gun-toting 14-year-old, crime will rise more—both above- and below-ground.
That police are stretched thinner even as their workload has grown isn’t just a subway issue. Re-zoning is allowing neighborhoods from the West Side to grow more dense. People who pay lots in taxes are calling on the cops to do everything from stopping club noise to keeping skateboarders out of pocket parks.
The NYPD has to keep these folk happy (or only mildly unhappy)—while keeping old- fashioned crime down, too.
And no, new New Yorkers don’t really care that we’ve made so much progress since 1990, when there were 2,245 murders. They weren’t born then.
This piece originally appeared in New York Post