While city subway riders are bracing themselves for deep service cuts, longer wait times and increased crowding, the NYPD’s Transit Bureau has already put into action a plan to tackle the uptick in crime that may accompany the changes.
By consolidating its Queens commands, the bureau will become more “efficient and, ultimately, more effective,” according to NYPD Transit Chief James Hall. On Monday, the Queens Transit Task Force, a unit that patrols trains at night, was shut down and its 48 officers were integrated into the borough’s two transit districts.
“I think it’s going to make us stronger operationally,” Hall said of the decision to merge, which came after the NYPD Transit Bureau took a close look at the Queens Transit Task Force’s responsibilities and found it was duplicating efforts already being made by Transit District 20.
Some politicians and straphanger advocacy groups disagree. City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, exppressed concern over the loss of the unit, fearing that fewer officers could lead to a rise in crime.
“It will absolutely go up. We see that already in the statistics,” Vallone said, citing crime-rate figures from 2008. He wrote a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly last week, asking him to reconsider eliminating the task force.
“The Queens task force would not have existed if it was not helping in the fight against subway crime,” the councilman said in a phone interview.
Although he was told the 48 task force officers were not being cut, Vallone insisted the borough will see a reduction in subway cops. “Mark my words,” he said. “There will be less police on our trains than there were last year. I can guarantee you that.”
But Hall said definitively, “we don’t lose any police officers in this at all.” The elimination of the task force, he added, “had nothing to do with the budget because nothing changed personnel-wise. It was an operational decision to make us more efficient and ultimately more effective.”
According to the chief, included in the duplicated tasks were uniform patrols; student coverage primarily focused on maintaining order and preventing overcrowding and crime in the subways after school dismissals; counter-terrorism work, which includes container inspections, bag checks and platform monitoring; and anti-crime work performed by plainclothes officers.
The reason efforts were being duplicated, Hall noted, was that the Queens Transit Task Force worked solely in District 20, in which 82 percent of the borough’s transit crimes occur. It was infrequently deployed to District 23, which covers only the Rockaway peninsula.
Unlike the Queens task force, the transit task forces in Brooklyn and Manhattan are deployed at various times and undetermined durations to the four districts each covers, according to Hall.
When the Queens task force was deployed to District 23, “it was logistically difficult for them to get there,” Hall said, noting the geographic distance between Rockaway and the task force’s command post, the Van Wyck Boulevard subway station in Briarwood, which it shares with District 20.
With the integration in place, that will no longer be a problem: the Rockaway transit district got 10 additional officers, six from the task force and four rookies. “When we were redeploying the task force we looked at it as an opportunity, too, to give District 23 a little shot in the arm,” Hall said. The number of officers in District 20 increased from 108 to 150.
That hike provides reassurance to some straphangers who feared the integration would reduce the number of officers patrolling subway stations at night. In fact, the merge will improve response time and handling of operations, according to Hall.
“You kind of streamline your deployment,” he said. “It will all come under … the commanding officer of District 20.” Hall is confident that the merge will increase communication and coordination of Transit Bureau Queens, as well as enhance the execution of duties, particularly school and weekend coverage.