NYPD Still To Deliver On Supreme Court’s Order

BY and


Despite efforts from Governor Cuomo to crack down on subway fare evasions, the NYPD’s public data on arrests and summonses issued to New Yorkers for ‘jumping the turnstiles’ does not tell us whether the governor’s plans have been successful. The data covers only the last seven fiscal quarters, providing numbers for the top ten subway stations with the highest rates of fare evasion arrests and summonses. The ambiguities in the data prompted Queens Councilman Rory Lancman and the Community Service Society, a nonprofit focused on addressing economic disparity, to file a lawsuit against the city last year.

In late September, New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ordered the NYPD to release more precise data for the other 372 stations across the five boroughs, following Councilman Lancman’s lawsuit. According to the filing, the NYPD has provided “no explanation beyond vague assertions that disclosure of the required data could create a risk to public safety.”

The Community Service Society says that the NYPD has failed to comply with local law 47 that requires extensive reporting on fare evasion arrest data on a regular basis. Jeffrey Maclin, Vice President for Governmental and Public Relations at the organization, adds via email, “We’re waiting on the NYPD to stop stonewalling and comply with the law and court order.”

“You can’t really parse out whether or not a change in arrests or ticket volumes is an artifact of real change in the behavior of users, a real change in police strategy, or likely both.” says Noah McClain, a Professor of Sociology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. McClain, who wrote a data-driven article about the criminalization of fare evasion in New York City, explains, “It’s a statistical conundrum that’s hidden in the material that is disseminated by the NYPD, which only gives you just the numbers, with no comparison basis, no, ‘Here’s how many police hours were allocated to policing subway entrances, this is how many subway entrances there are. This is how many riders we had’… That information needs to be used in order to triangulate any kind of disproportionality.”

A few of the busiest stations in Manhattan — Times Square, Columbus Circle, and 42nd Street-Port Authority — fall into the NYPD’s top ten lists for fare evasions. From the fourth reported quarter of 2017 to the most recent quarter of 2019, the number of summonses issued in Times Square has almost tripled, starting at 190 and ending at 549 summonses issued for fare evasion. Columbus Circle follows a similar trend. At the same time, the data shows that arrests for fare evasion at those stations have been steadily decreasing. Some of the busiest stations drop off the top ten lists in recent quarters, despite their summonses continuing to rise. Still, the lack of thorough data collection makes it hard to analyze trends in transit policing.

Kathleen Linnane, a lawyer who helped John Tran successfully beat a summons issued to him by the NYPD for allegedly hopping the turnstile at 125th Street, is concerned about the real-world impact on lower-income subway users. She explains that, “We have misaligned policing in different parts of the city…If people don’t show up for their summons hearings, often times people can’t take the time off from work. So then they end up in the criminal justice system, and the next time they can’t afford a subway fare and they walk through the door…They’re going to get arrested. It’s this systemic policy problem.”

When asked about police proceedings on summonses, Sergeant Christopher Hewitson of the Midtown North Precinct comments, “Officers have discretion, always.” He declined to elaborate further.

Next door, at the Midtown Community Court, Sergeant Edward Moloney says that “somebody could literally talk their way out of [a summons] — ‘I forgot my metro card, I’m broke, I’m sorry…’” Sergeant Moloney added that he has certainly seen a spike in people coming in to the Community Court for fare evasion summonses. He has worked at the Community Court for the last eight years. “The police have shifted their procedure so that they’ll write the C-summons for fare evasion, versus a desk appearance ticket or what we call an online arrest, same day processing.” A C-Summons is a criminal summons. Sergeant Moloney explains that a desk appearance ticket, like a C summons, is also a type of arrest. These distinctions, however, are never made clear in the NYPD dataset, which only separates “arrests” and “summonses” in two broad categories.

The NYPD has yet to release more detailed data reports since the court order.