Governor Andrew A. Cuomo today announced the launch of Transit Watch, a new program to protect Metropolitan Transportation Authority personnel by offering cash rewards to help prosecute anyone who assaults an MTA employee.
Transit Watch is designed to stem assaults on subway, bus and commuter train personnel by giving riders who witness assaults an incentive of up to $2,000 to help police track down the offenders.
"Thousands of men and women work on the front lines of the MTA system every day to make sure millions of people can get to work safely," Governor Cuomo said. "We need to ensure they stay safe as well. Transit Watch puts criminals on notice that if they assault a bus, subway or train employee, everyone who sees it happen is going to help put them in jail."
The MTA has had 48 employees assaulted on the job this year, compared to 40 in the same period last year. Assaulting an MTA employee is a Class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
"Assaults on transit workers are on the rise, and the MTA is committed to making them stop," said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. "An attack on any one of our workers is an attack on all of us, and we share the goal of protecting our employees as they put their lives on the line every day."
Transit Watch was generated by discussion at a conference sponsored this month by the MTA and Transport Workers Union Local 100 to find solutions to transit worker assaults.
"This is a big win for transit workers, who face physical assaults, verbal abuse and threats every day on the job, and who have long felt that transit assaults are given a low priority," said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen. "We very much appreciate Governor Cuomo's immediate action to turn a good idea into reality virtually overnight."
Transit Watch is funded by the MTA. Witnesses with information about assaults on MTA New York City Transit personnel can call the NYPD's Crimestoppers program at 800-577-TIPS (800-577-8477), which assigns callers an anonymous ID number so they do not have to give their names. Rewards of up to $2,000 are paid for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the perpetrator.
"We want people to come forward and 'say something' if they witness a crime against an MTA employee," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "This reward program helps us achieve that goal, and it supports our heightened uniformed presence on city buses and subways as a way to protect those responsible for moving millions of commuters each day."
Witnesses with information about assaults on employees of Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad can report them to the MTA Police Department at 212-878-1001.
The MTA will spread the word about Transit Watch with posters and other notices on buses, subways and commuter rail cars, as well as through its existing media outlets and social media channels.
In 2008, bus operator Edwin Thomas was stabbed to death in Brooklyn by an irate passenger who refused to pay his fare and demanded that Thomas give him a free transfer. The ex-con who stabbed him was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The NYPD Transit Bureau has begun using the CompStat program to track crimes against bus operators by bus route, in order to identify the routes that are most prone to trouble. Since bus routes usually run through several precincts, those crimes are not typically aggregated in precinct-level data.
MTA New York City Transit has installed security cameras on nearly 400 buses to identify assailants who assault bus operators. More than 1,500 more are scheduled to be deployed in the next two years, at a cost of $22,000 per bus. The agency has also installed 571 partitions in buses to protect bus operators at a cost of up to $3,000 per bus. All new MTA buses being ordered will have partitions as well.