PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Savage, unprovoked attacks on passengers have fueled a 41.7% hike in violent incidents on New York City’s subway lines so far this year. The grim tally includes nine murders.
New York Police Department records showed assaults and robberies among the 1,865 transit crimes reported from January through Oct. 28, compared to 1,316 over the same time last year.
The nine subway murders already passed the six killings in 2021 (see timeline below). Included this year were a woman pushed in front of a Times Square train in January, a man fatally shot in May on a Manhattan-bound “Q” train from Brooklyn, and a 15-year-old boy gunned down last month on an “A” train in Far Rockaway.
Joe Fox, a retired NYPD commander and former chief of the Transit Bureau, urged riders to stay vigilant, avoid arguments, and stick with the crowds.
“The most important public safety tip is to go with your gut,” he added. “It rarely lies to us. When you’re getting into a subway car, and something doesn’t feel right, turn around and get out. Honor that.”
Fox, now a leadership coach and public speaker, led the Transit Bureau from 2011-2018.
The Brooklyn native and lifelong Catholic also commanded the Brooklyn South Patrol Bureau and the 71st Precinct.
He began as a beat cop in the 1980s as crack cocaine caused widespread violent crime throughout the city.
Public safety improved starting in the mid-1990s with the sometimes controversial “Broken Windows” police initiatives. Fox said former Mayor Rudy Giuliani got credit for the reversal, but he didn’t do it alone.
“The Legislature, the district attorneys, and the courts worked in partnership with policing,” Fox said. “Everybody had the same goal and priority — public safety.
“Now, a good portion of the district attorneys and elected officials are not in alignment with law enforcement.”
Fox said legislation and administrative changes spurred reforms like “cashless bail,” which, he said, allows arrestees to more easily return to the streets, free to do more crime.
“People are getting arrested for guns over and over again, and they’re still out,” Fox said. “These cases are not being prosecuted.”
Likewise, he added, lesser crimes like fare evasion — the so-called “turnstile jumping” — go unprosecuted.
“Just think about that,” Fox said. “At the moment you walk into a subway system, a tone has been set — laws that were important five years ago are unimportant today.
“You heard other people say this, and it’s true: what you see in the subways is reflective of what’s happening in the city. And that’s why it’s so frightening when you see an increase in murders and assaults.”
New York City’s transit crime spike has touched Albany as Gov. Kathy Hochul runs to stay in office in the Nov. 8 election. It was a hot topic on Oct. 25 during the only debate between Hochul, a Democrat, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate, where the governor questioned Zeldin as to why bail reform was “so important” to him.
In an apparent October surprise last week — she joined Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell to announce a “surge” of cops on platforms and trains — with state money paying a chunk of the overtime they’ll accrue — days before her election.
Adams, who was elected last year on a platform of being strong on crime, has been unable to effectively enforce law and order, given the major crime statistics.
Meanwhile, as officials hash out what to do next, riders are still their own best “first line of defense.” However, Fox noted, they can protect themselves without ever enduring a punch or a shove.
“These crime prevention tips and practices are nothing new,” he said. “They’re about putting ourselves in places where we have less likelihood of becoming a crime victim.”
Fox said it’s human nature to seek a comfortable commute, which can mean finding a seat in less-crowded cars. But those often are at the back of a train, which can be inviting to criminals.
“Criminals don’t want to get caught,” Fox said. “They’d much rather do a crime down at the end, in a car that is relatively empty. You are better off in a crowded car, even if it means not having a seat. And you want the car in the middle where it is more likely to have a conductor.”
Fox stressed that conductors are not law enforcement, but they can report crimes. So it helps to stay in a conductor’s “direct line of sight,” he said.
He noted that he used to warn people to be alert by staying off their cell phones. Now, he believes people paid good money for phone technology, and they should feel free to use it.
“Just don’t get lost in your phone,” he said. “You can check your messages — but every now and then, look up.”
“If you’re watching a movie, listening to a podcast, put the pause button on,” he added. “Take a minute. Look around. No bad can come of that.”
People on their phones should avoid the seats next to the doors, where snatchers lurk.
“If you sit by the door, you’re a better target,” Fox said.
“Thieves know the timing of the doors better than some of the conductors,” he added. “They snatch your phone, the doors close, the perp goes one way, and your phone is with him.”
Fox said many assaults on subways “begin with some type of a verbal exchange” and “end with one of the people behaving violently.
“So, avoid verbal altercations,” he said. “Why argue with somebody you’re never going to see again?
“But we do that with the expectation that we’re speaking to another law-abiding citizen. It’s not always the case. (He or she) might take out a knife.”
A Violent Start and A Very Rough October
The following timeline shows some of the most violent crimes committed so far this year on New York City’s transit system.
Jan. 22 Michelle Go, 40, was killed when a man pushed her into the path of a train at the Times Square-42nd Street station. Police arrested Martial Simon, a 61-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness and a criminal record. He was determined to be mentally unfit for trial and sent to a guarded psychiatric facility.
April 12 A man on the “N” train in Sunset Park, Brooklyn tossed a smoke grenade and fired 33 rounds from a semiautomatic pistol. No one died, but 10 of the 29 injured people had gunshot wounds. A city-wide manhunt resulted in the next-day arrest of Frank James, a 62-year-old drifter who made lengthy tirades of social media. He was charged with federal gun law violations.
May 22 Daniel Enriquez, 48, was fatally shot on a Manhattan-bound “Q” train from Brooklyn while riding to Manhattan for Sunday brunch with family. Witnesses said the shooting was random. Andrew Abdullah, 25, was arrested three days later and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Sept. 20 A 33-year-old woman was chased, punched, kicked, and repeatedly stomped in an attack recorded by a security camera in the Howard Beach/JFK Airport station. Police arrested Waheed Foster, 41, on charges of attempted murder and assault. Officials said he was homeless. He has been in and out of prison for a long history of criminal violence, including the beating death of his grandmother when he was 14, according to media reports.
Oct. 2 The “Green Goblin Gang,” a group of young women clad head-to-toe in neon-green bodysuits, allegedly beat and robbed two 19-year-old women on a train stopped at Times Square. Four suspects, all from Long Island City, were identified and arrested on robbery charges.
Oct. 14 Jayjohn Burnett, 15, died from a gunshot to the chest following a dispute on an “A” train in Far Rockaway. Keyondre Russell, 18, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon. However, a Queens County grand jury chose not to indict him on the murder charge. A video of the incident shows teens, male and female, brawling in a car; a gunshot is heard, but it does not show who fired it.
Oct. 21 In another crime captured by security cameras a 32-year-old man was shoved onto the “L” train tracks in the Myrtle/Wyckoff Avenue subway station in Queens. The alleged assailant is Lamale McRae, 41, of Brooklyn, who was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Oct. 23 A man, 62, was punched in the back of the head, causing him to drop onto the “4” train tracks at the 149th St.-Grand Concourse station in the Bronx. Police helped the man back onto the platform and soon arrested Deshaun Smith, 21, of Brooklyn on charges of reckless endangerment, assault, attempted assault, and harassment. According to media reports, police said the assault may have been part of a “knockout game” in which victims get leveled with a single punch for postings on social media.
Subway Crime Prevention Tips
The New York Police Department recommends these tips to stay safe while riding the city’s subway system.
- Remain alert and aware of your surroundings
- When you are on the subway platform, the safest place to wait is behind the yellow line, away from the platform edge
- Be mindful of your belongings at all times – particularly when using personal electronic devices
- Hold on to your purse, briefcase or backpack – keeping them in front of you, even if using the shoulder strap
- Keep your wallet out of sight and avoid keeping it in a rear pocket while standing aboard the train
- Do not place your wallet or purse inside of a shopping bag or other open container; instead, secure it in a closed handbag or pocketbook, or an inside coat pocket
- Passengers asleep on a train make up one quarter of all major subway crime, so stay awake and alert to avoid becoming a target for criminals