By Dylan Campbell
Slipping through the closing emergency door, squeezing two people into one section of a revolving subway entrance, hopping over the turnstile — every straphanger has seen it. So have the cops.
Most people caught by NYPD after evading the subway fare get a slap on the wrist. But for individuals with summons warrants on their records, the act results in a handcuffed trip to jail.
But that may be changing.
The police will no longer arrest fare-beaters who have summons warrants on their record, the Daily News reported Thursday after a conversation with an anonymous NYPD official. The report received praise from local lawmakers and by police officers themselves.
“I’m all for it,” one cop told the Queens Daily Eagle. “Not having to arrest people for petty stuff like that is a good thing. I think most cops feel that way.”
Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the Committee on the Justice System, said the move away from arresting turnstile-jumpers would ensure fewer low-income New Yorkers get tangled up in the criminal justice system.
“New York City should not be arresting or prosecuting anyone for fare evasion,” Lancman said. “The Police Department’s new policy is a positive development since it will keep more New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system.”
Lancman said he hoped the city would go a step further.
“The Mayor should stop criminalizing the poor entirely and direct the NYPD to issue civil summonses only for fare evasion,” Lancman said.
Police can arrest fare evaders for a variety of simultaneous offenses, such as possession of drugs or a weapon. Police currently also cuff people who fail to prove their identity, individuals on parole and those with outstanding warrants for a misdemeanor or felony.
Those outstanding warrants typically apply to low-level offenses like public urination or drinking in public. Nevertheless, officers arrest the suspects, take them to the precinct and complete a lengthy paperwork process, thus removing themselves from the beat.
Now, the News reports, fare-beaters will start seeing the inside of a courtroom instead of a jail cell. The NYPD officer who detains them in the subway station will drive them to court to settle the outstanding summons as well as the new one for theft of services.
The proposed policy would take the officer off the streets for two hours compared to the six to eight hours it takes to process an arrest, the News reports.
Such enforcement would have a major impact on Queens police precincts.
In May, Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown office told The Queens Chronicle that there were 1,890 dispositions in fare evasion cases from July 2016 through July 2017 in Queens. In the vast majority of cases, the court agrees to dismiss the charges if the fare-beater stays out of trouble.
“Those fare evader cases that enter the criminal justice system are those where the person has already been given at least a second chance or otherwise ignored the civil process,” a spokesperson for the DA told the Chronicle. “How many chances is a fare beater entitled to? What message does it send to those who pay their fare?”
The theft of service arrest data reflects the same racial disparities that prompted the city and the NYPD to review marijuana enforcement policy in June.
Though arrests have decreased in each of the the past three years, black and Latino New Yorkers are still arrested more than twice as often as white New Yorkers, according to data from the NYPD.
In February, Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced that he would not prosecute people who were busted for turnstile jumping unless they posed a public safety threat.
Advocates say fare-beating is a crime of poverty and that people commit the misdeed because they cannot consistently afford a $2.75 Metrocard. In response to their concerns, the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to fund the “fair fares” initiative, which will provide half-fare MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers, as part of the budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
De Blasio said the program will make New York City “the kind of city that really . . . includes everyone.”
According to the Community Service Society of New York, the organization that spearheaded the “fair fares” campaign, 1 in 4 low-income New Yorkers cannot afford Metrocards.