Busted for being black? NY Attorney General to investigate if NYPD targets people of color in fare evasion enforcement

David Caplan
January 13, 2020 - 5:53 pm
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NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Monday that her office will investigate if people of color are being disproportionately targeted by the NYPD for evading subway fares. 

"I'm launching an investigation into the NYPD to determine if officers have illegally targeted communities of color on NYC subways through enforcement of fare evasion laws," James tweeted. 

She wrote a letter to NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea requesting 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," her office said.

But Devora Kaye, acting deputy commissioner of public information, said, "The NYPD’s transit officers patrol day and night to keep six million daily riders safe and enforce the law fairly and equally without consideration of race or ethnicity.”

James said in a statement, "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.”

A press release from her office reveals statistics that back up her concern: "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," the release reads. "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."

Ken Lovett, a senior adviser to MTA chairman Pat Foye, said in a statement that all customers "are entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law.''

"Fare evasion is a $300 million annual problem that should be addressed in a way that does not unjustly target any specific group or community," Lovett said. "We are committed to assisting the attorney general with her inquiry in any way we can.''

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said it's time for the investigation, "I applaud Attorney General James for investigating this important issue. 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.”

The city's Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, echoed Johnson's sentiments, saying, “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."

He added, "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.”