OPINION: New Lawsuit Confronts ‘Alarming,’ ‘Unjustifiable’ Racial Disparities

By Council Member Rory I. Lancman

Last week, I partnered with the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY) to file a lawsuit against Mayor de Blasio to force the NYPD to disclose fare evasion arrest, civil summons and demographic data as required by a law unanimously passed by the City Council last year. This is not an action that I or my partner in the lawsuit take lightly. However, the City has now missed three deadlines to disclose this data, leaving us no choice but to take legal action.

Here is what happened: Thanks to analyses from CSSNY and others, we know that a vast racial disparity exists with regards to fare evasion enforcement in New York City. Every year, roughly 90 percent of those arrested for fare evasion are either Black or Latino.

Those numbers were alarming. Additional data would enable the public to determine if there was anything that could justify such a large disparity. Only with additional data could we see who was getting arrested, who was getting a civil summons, and who was not getting any enforcement at all.

District 24 Council Member Rory Lancman, who announced his candidacy for Queens district attorney Wednesday. // Photo courtesy of Rory Lancman

District 24 Council Member Rory Lancman, who announced his candidacy for Queens district attorney Wednesday. // Photo courtesy of Rory Lancman

In December 2017, the City Council passed my bill requiring the NYPD to report quarterly on the number of arrests and civil summonses issued for fare evasion at each of the city’s 472 subway stations. The legislation specified that the data must be broken down by subway station where enforcement action took place, transit bureau district, and race, sex, and age group of the individual who was arrested or issued a civil summons.

After a hearing and some negotiations with the NYPD, the bill passed the City Council, and shortly thereafter became law.

Remarkably, the NYPD has refused to follow the law and release the data to the public. To date, the NYPD has failed to produce three quarterly reports, stating that the release of this information would -- somehow -- create a risk to public safety. That excuse does not hold water. No one from the administration raised public safety concerns at the Council hearing or during negotiations for the final bill.

The city does not want to release this data because of what it will show: unjustifiable racial disparities. Earlier this year, the City Council forced the NYPD to produce 311/911 call data that has now fundamentally changed how marijuana possession is policed and prosecuted in New York City. The NYPD dreads the same result with regards to fare evasion.

We have spent months negotiating in good faith with all interested parties, but there can be only one outcome: the city must comply with the law.

Council Member Rory Lancman represents District 24 and chairs the council’s Committee on the Justice System. On Wednesday, he officially declared his candidacy for Queens District Attorney.