Capt. Michael Telfer, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Transit District 20, did not mention Sunando Sen by name on Jan. 16 when he and some of his officers spoke about subway safety at a meeting of the 112th Precinct’s Community Council.
Sen was pushed to his death in December under a No. 7 line subway train in Sunnyside. He was 46, and his accused attacker is a woman with a history of mental illness and violent behavior.
“He had no idea of what was going to happen,” Telfer said. “There were no words between them, no confrontation. She was sitting on a bench behind him. She just didn’t like the way he looked ... It is so important to stay aware of your surroundings.”
Before joining the NYPD, Telfer worked for six years as a police officer in his native Jamaica.
“The one with 80-degree temperatures and ocean breezes,” he said.
Headquarters now is a station that is seen by those traversing the concourse in the bustling Queens Boulevard-Van Wyck-Main Street subway station.
Sen’s killing was just the most high profile one in a recent series of incidents on the city’s subways. Transit District 20 covers all of Queens underground with the exception of the A line.
“Fifty-nine stations from Astoria to Jamaica,” said Lt. Andrew Hatki of TD 20.
Speaking at the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, Telfer, Hatki and Officer James O’Toole said people can help safeguard their own safety and property when traveling underground.
“Be aware,” O’Toole said. “Don’t bury your head in your iPhone or cell phone.”
Hatki and Telfer recommended keeping personal electronic devices out of sight.
“There are people who don’t want to buy a cell phone,” Telfer said. “There are people who don’t want to spend $200 on a contract.”
They said today robbers will wait until they see someone sitting by a door, engrossed in their music or texting, sometimes wearing headphones or earphones and making their safety even more precarious.
“They grab your property as the door closes,” Hatki said. “Then the train starts moving.”
Telfer did say that all owners who have the availability should register their electronics and either obtain or activate some automatic features like iPhone’s “Find My iPhone” app.
“We have gotten phones back and arrested people using those apps,” Telfer said. “They work. But you must activate them, because it breaks our hearts when people lose their their things.”
They said another favorite is for thieves to target people coming up out of subway station whose attention is on their phones or their music.
Capt. Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, said they worked very closely with TD 20 during a recent spate of seven cell phone robberies near the 67th Avenue subway station at Queens Boulevard.
“We deployed resources above ground, they deployed resources below ground and we made an arrest,” Conforti said. “We also stopped a couple of people we believed were involved. Maybe we scared somebody, because we haven’t had another incident since.”
Telfer reiterated that the criminals count on their victims being distracted, and sometimes will create distractions themselves.
The officers said that just as iPhones did not exist at the beginning of their careers, neither did the practice of “lush-cutting” in which passengers who are asleep or drunk can come to and find that the pockets of their clothing, backpacks and handbags to have been sliced open and cleaned out without their ever being roused.
They said women should carry their handbags in front of them and keep them closed.
Men should carry their wallets and cash in their front pockets.
“Just think about how many times you get bumped on one subway ride,” Telfer said.
And they said to be as selective of their subway cars as they are of their seats.
“Go in the middle car near the conductor or the front car near the motorman,” Hatki said.
The transit unit officers also said that the subway platform, from which two people have been thrown in recent months, should be regarded with care.
He said one need not be physically shoved or thrown to the tracks to slip or be jostled and fall.
“When you see the lights, move back to the middle of the platform,” Telfer said. “Your train is coming. You’ll be able to get on.”