The tragic New York City subway shooting on March 12 is shedding more light on transit crime and the ways in which law enforcement can stop similar crimes from happening again.
The shooter, 62-year-old Black nationalist Frank James, shot and injured 10 people on a New York City subway car. Following a city-wide manhunt, James was arrested and charged with committing a terrorist act on a mass transportation vehicle. He could face life imprisonment.
In the aftermath of the shooting, New York City officials said the incident points to not just a local transit crime issue but a nationwide one.
“You know, I say over and over again, there are many rivers that feed the sea of violence. This is a national issue,” New York Mayor Eric Adams told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “It’s not a red state, blue state. In fact, red states are experiencing a higher murder rate than blue states.”
Now, major cities are considering adding more police to their public transit systems. They are also mulling over options to implement screening technologies and are urging media sites to monitor for suspicious activity on their platforms.
NYC Commissioner Keechant Sewell said the city’s first move would be to bolster law enforcement officer presence on New York subways in response to the shooting.
“We’re surging more officers into the subway system. We recognize that people need to see a visible presence of police in the subway, and we’re endeavoring to make sure that that happens,” he said.
Although Sewell attempted to downplay crime in the city compared with its pre-COVID numbers, he admitted that transit crime continues to soar.
Compared to 2021 numbers, transit crime in the Big Apple has risen by 68%. However, experts say it’s not just New York that is experiencing an increase in transit crimes since the pandemic.
Other cities, such as D.C. and Los Angeles, are also experiencing an uptick in both violent and nonviolent crimes, among those being several high-profile shootings.
Robberies on New York transit have risen 71% through April 10, according to the NYPD transit bureau. In addition, grand larceny has skyrocketed to over 110%. Police in D.C. say sex crimes in particular have become more frequent as ridership has decreased.
In response to the situation, D.C. Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. requested that the Metro board approve a policy to allow police to temporarily ban suspects arrested on suspicion of sex crimes or weapons charges from the transit system. However, the proposal was rejected after civil rights activists argued it gave police too much power.
“We believe that because there [are] less people on the trains and buses, that this is an opportunity for these individuals who commit these crimes because there are less witnesses, less opportunity for other individuals to get involved and maybe intimidate them because of the number of riders,” Pavlik said.
Sarah Feinberg, the former president of the New York City Transit Authority, said that police need to intervene before criminals become more emboldened.
“A robust, uniformed, respectful, diligent police presence in the system makes the vast majority of riders feel safer and deters a lot of bad behavior and criminal conduct,” she told The Washington Post.
Despite activists’ worries about over-policing, city officials say the increase in police officers is necessary to reassure the public.
“We recognize that people need to see a visible presence of police in the subway, and we’re endeavoring to make sure that that happens,” Sewell explained. “There are also security measures that we don’t see, but we understand that that reassurance is required. And we’re putting multiple officers in the subways every single day.”
Adams has also suggested utilizing gun-screening technologies and metal detectors to prevent subway crime.
Finally, after noting that James espoused radical and hateful ideologies on YouTube prior to the attack, Adams urged private media companies to continue to monitor their users for suspicious activity that could lead to violence and to alert law enforcement.
“There’s a corporate responsibility when we are watching hate brew online,” Adams said. “We can identify using artificial intelligence and other methods to identify those who are talking about violence.”