I heard my first subway announcement on Thursday about how “there are police officers on the last car if you need their assistance.” And a few stops later, that “police officers are on the platform.”
Those came during a routine evening commute I mostly spent reading after walking past a guy outside of the Herald Square station holding a golf club in one hand while throwing trash with the other into slow-moving crosstown traffic, and continuing past a shirtless guy sputtering mostly to himself while swinging his arms and pacing erratically by the stairs inside the Delancey St. station.
The new announcements rolled out just as Kathy Hochul was abruptly pivoting her message to public safety in the closing days of her gubernatorial campaign against all-crime-all-the-time Lee Zeldin. With Republicans surging nationally, polls show the contest has become uncomfortably close; the sitting governor, who’s mostly run a Rose Garden race for a term of her own, now calls herself “the underdog.”
A week ago, Mayor Adams and Hochul came along with the third temporary surge of cops into trains and stations this year, each one paid for with overtime and intended to calm “perceptions” of a dangerous subway system and show that it’s turned a corner.
This latest one launched just as City Hall was convening an emergency summit with criminal justice stakeholders. That didn’t appear to produce anything except for new messaging from Adams about a supposed “decrease in index crimes” in the subway system on his watch.
The new talking point the mayor is hammering home is that “the last time we had real ridership was in 2019. Our index crimes are lower than 2019, 2018, 2017, and the last 10-year period. So the numbers bear out that the officers are doing an amazing job,” with more summonses and arrests and an increased presence.
The result, says Adams, is that “I’m hearing New Yorkers saying ‘thank you. You see, you have responded to the actual crime on our systems and the feeling we were having because [of] what we were hearing all the time about crime in the subway system.’ ”
Maybe! Although, of course, what New Yorkers say to a mayor is often very different from what they say about that mayor.
Whatever Adams is hearing from New Yorkers — and polling suggests they like his style more than they do his city so far — claiming that the police have made the trains safe again is a hell of a spin on numbers showing that index crimes are up 40% from 2021 and down just 4% from 2019 while ridership, even as it’s setting post-pandemic records, is down 40% from 2019.
What’s more, those index crimes are mostly larcenies, meaning non-violent thefts. Compared to 2021, when there were a million fewer riders, robberies — the forcible taking of property — are up nearly 35% and felony assaults by more than 15%.
There were three murders in the subway system in the last month — more than in all of 2017, 2018 or 2019.
So far, there have been nine murders in the subway system this year — more than in 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined.
Claiming the system is safer now than it was before the pandemic is a three-card monte game.
“We have 3.5 million riders, and I’m going to keep saying this over and over again,” Adams has indeed repeated all week. “3.5 million people use our subway system and they get to and from their destination with no problems at all. But if you are seeing disorder, if you are seeing people loud, disruptive, cursing, acting disorderly, it’s going to play into what you’re feeling.”
Adams can’t say that the odds of ending up the victim of a serious crime while in the subway system are one in a million because those are down to one in 600,000.
And also because the defund-and-decarcerate left-wingers in the City Council’s ascendent Progressive Caucus and elsewhere who he’s up against keep making that point to counter Adams as he argues that the police are doing their job while the rest of the system ensures that predictably violent people remain in circulation even after they’re arrested.
After squandering much of his Year One political capital in Albany, Adams may end up with a second chance after the election if Democrats lose their supermajority in the state Senate in November and the governor becomes receptive to new approaches, but in the meantime he’s left saying things are better than the tabloids are telling you.
New Yorkers aren’t stupid, and they’re going to judge what they see — not what the headlines or the evening news or the mayor tells them.
Adams needs to mind the gap between New Yorkers getting in and out of the trains without becoming the victim of a felony crime and having “no problems at all” there.
Siegel, an editor at The City, is a columnist for the Daily News.