Attorney General James Launches Investigation Into NYPD For Alleged Targeting Of Communities Of Color On NYC Subways

AG James Requests Documents Outlining Coordination Between NYPD and MTA for Enforcement of ‘Fare Evasion’ Laws and Regulations

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced she is launching an investigation into whether the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has been targeting communities of color through its enforcement of the “theft of services” law and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) ‘fare evasion’ regulations. In a letter to NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Attorney General James requests fare evasion data and other information that may shine a light on whether officers have exhibited racial biases or engaged in discriminatory practices in their enforcement of these laws and regulations at subway stations throughout the city.

“We’ve all read the stories and seen the disturbing videos of men, women, and children being harassed, dragged away, and arrested by officers in our city’s subway system, which is why we are launching an investigation into this deeply troublesome conduct,” said Attorney General James. “If groups of New Yorkers have been unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin, my office will not hesitate to take legal action. While we are hopeful that the NYPD will cooperate thoroughly with this investigation, we will not hesitate to use every investigative tool at our disposal to protect subway riders and the people of this city.”

Current and former NYPD officers have recently alleged in sworn statements that — through at least 2015 — the NYPD had an unofficial policy of targeting black and Hispanic people for fare evasion and other low-level violations in the city’s subway system. But newly-published data indicates that this alleged policy may still continue today. Between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic New Yorkers received almost 70-percent of all civil summonses for fare evasion, even though they only account for slightly more than half of the city’s population. During that same period, they made up nearly 90-percent of arrests for fare evasion.

In her letter to Commissioner Shea, Attorney General James requests information detailing, but not limited to:

• The number of officers assigned to every subway station throughout the city each day,
• Any arrangements made between the NYPD and the MTA regarding enforcement of fare evasion laws,
• Information pertaining to policies and training of NYPD officers on the enforcement of fare evasion laws, and
• Additional data on notices, summonses, and arrests pertaining to fare evasion, broken down by race and age.

“I thank the Attorney General's office for investigating the extent to which the systemic injustices in law enforcement actions and the criminal justice system — the criminalization of people and communities of more color — may be present in our mass transit system,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “We can have better policing and safer streets and subways at the same time, and it's critical that issues of enforcement bias are found, highlighted, and corrected — especially as the Governor moves forward with his plan for unaccountable officers on our trains.”

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer added, “New Yorkers deserve a safe, reliable transit system free of bias and discrimination. Our law enforcement is supposed to protect all New Yorkers, not criminalize people of color. I support Attorney General James’s investigation because injustice in our subways must not be tolerated.”

“I applaud Attorney General James for investigating this important issue,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “For decades, law enforcement has disproportionately impacted communities of color and as we reform our criminal justice system we need to know if this practice is continuing with fare evasion.”

State Senator Brian Benjamin (SD-30) added, “I am proud to support the Attorney General’s investigation into this matter. We need to ensure our justice system is protecting vulnerable New Yorkers, not placing undue burdens on communities like the one I represent.”

“We already know that, by its very nature, the campaign to stop fare evasion targets low-income New Yorkers and polices poverty,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (SD-34). “It is important that we also learn how the enforcement of fair evasion regulations impact communities of color and if they are disproportionately targeted. I thank Attorney General Letitia James for her leadership and work to ensure the protection of marginalized New Yorkers in our public transportation system.”

“As the representative of communities that have experienced racial profiling, over policing, and institutional racism firsthand, the Attorney General’s office has our full support,” said State Senator Julie Salazar (SD-18). “The NYPD needs to be held accountable for their abuses of power, and I look forward to working with AG on issues related to mass incarceration, institutional racism, and over policing.”

State Assembly Member Michael Blake (AD-79) added, “Riding while black or brown is not a crime. Neither is poverty. As someone who regularly rides the train and sees the uncomfortable tension between Bronx residents of color and some members of law enforcement at train stations, I absolutely applaud Attorney General James launching this investigation into whether communities of color have been illegally targeted on subways. I hope that this investigation does not confirm what too many of us fear — that race is the reason so many are targeted rather than actual misconduct. We must stop penalizing the poor and must start ensuring fairness not fear.”

“Whether it is the use of stop and frisk or the enforcement of low-level marijuana possession, I have always believed in, and will always fight for, the application of safety and justice that protects every single New Yorker,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Attorney General James’ investigation into allegedly inequitable enforcement of our fare evasion laws is both responsible and responsive to the concerns of communities that have historically suffered from bias-based policing. As someone who policed this city above ground and below, I know without question that we can make this city safer and do so without leaving people in disgrace. We must all follow the same rules, commuters and cops alike.”

This Office of the New York State Attorney General has previously reviewed practices related to biases at the NYPD. In 2000, the office issued a report on the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk and issued a supplemental report in 2013 after a court found evidence of biased policing.

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Office of the New York State Attorney General enforces laws that protect all New Yorkers from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, among other protected classes. If an individual believes they have been a victim of discrimination or have other information relevant to this investigation, they can contact the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of the New York State Attorney General by calling 212-416-8250 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

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