Has subway crime reached a nadir?By
After a few weeks of random purse-snatches and one escape through a subway tunnel that have led to lingering tensions between New York City Transit and the NYPD, the cops finally arrested the suspected purse-snatcher. While the resolution of this drama is a welcome denouement, the real story comes from an analysis of recent subway crime statistics. They may have bottomed out with nowhere to go but up.
At the end of December, the MTA announced a period of record low crime in the subways. While ridership reached a 50-year peak, crime had hit an all-time low. But it was not to last.
According to recent numbers, crime numbers in the subway saw a slight uptick during the first four months of the year. Pete Donohue reports:
The latest data shows that crime rose slightly during the first four months of this year – the third time in the last five years there has been an uptick.
There were 704 felonies, including robberies, on trains and in stations between January through April – an increase of 1.7%, according to NYPD statistics reported to the MTA.
Serious offenses are rare considering the volume of riders, but the mini-spike calls into question whether police can bring down the crime rate much more. “I doubt it can go down dramatically or [get] much lower,” said Eli Silverman, police studies professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But can they keep it pretty close to where it’s been? I think they can.”
Silverman raises an interesting idea: At some point, due to the magnitude of the subway system and limitations of a personnel-based police force, the MTA and the NYPD won’t be able to continue lowering the subway crime rate. In fact, it’s quite possible that we’re at that nadir; unless different surveillance and prevention measures are put into place, subway crime won’t get lower.
Perhaps adding cameras to subway cars or stations could force the crime rate a few ticks lower. Perhaps increased police presence — Operation Torch? — will deter a few more potential criminals.
But either way, the MTA and NYPD have done a stellar job in turning the subways around over the last few decades from a crime-infested disaster to a vast public transit system about as safe as one could hope. As long as crime stays low, we’ll all come out ahead.