The Metropolitan Transit Authority announced earlier this month that it would add 500 more MTA police officers to crackdown on quality of life offenses in the subway.
This plan is a superficial and misguided attempt to deal with the very serious issue of homelessness in New York City. It runs the risk of further criminalizing poverty and making poor people’s lives more difficult while doing nothing to get at the root causes of homelessness.
In announcing the influx of police, New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford said, “These additional police officers will enable us to continue to focus on getting the homeless the help they need.” But that emphasis doesn’t square with the idea that these officers will be charged with enforcing quality of life issues, which can include offenses tied directly to a person’s poverty, like sleeping on the subway.
Homelessness will not be solved by increasing the number of police officers who patrol our subway stations. And while every New Yorker should feel safe when riding public transit, this proposal is clearly a guise to aggressively police low-income and homeless New Yorkers.
The 500 officers will nearly double the number of MTA officers already assigned to the subway and will add to the 2,500 NYPD officers who also currently police the subways.
This proposal is clearly a guise to aggressively police low-income and homeless New Yorkers.
The MTA’s plan comes two months after Gov. Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA, wrote a letter to the authority urging it to get people who are homeless out of the subways.
“New Yorkers are unfortunately accustomed to having homeless issues on the trains and in the terminals during the winter months, but this has now become a year-round phenomenon,” Cuomo wrote. “Homeless people often pose a danger to themselves and others.”
This sort of language ignores the fact that people who are homeless are also New Yorkers and not separate from them. It also treats homelessness as something that threatens non-homeless people and needs to be swept away and kept out of public view.
The letter also ignores the state and federal government’s role in increasing the number of people who are homeless, including cuts to rental assistance programs.
Arresting or ticketing people because of their housing status doesn’t solve homelessness; it entrenches it. And while there are certainly times when a dangerous situation on the subway may warrant police intervention, officers should not be on the front lines of solving our homelessness crisis.
The city, the state, and the federal government would be better served investing resources toward solutions that address poverty, not criminalize it.