NEW YORK – The New York City Council today voted unanimously to pass Intro. 1664, legislation that will require the NYPD to report the number of arrests and summonses issued for subway fare evasion on a quarterly basis. The legislation specifies that the data must be broken down into the following categories: subway station where the enforcement action took place, transit bureau district, and race, sex, and age group of the individual who was arrested or issued a TAB summons.
The legislation passed by the Council today will fill in the gaps in the current system for reporting fare evasion arrest and summons data. Earlier this year, the NYPD refused to release data on where fare evasion arrests took place and the race of the individuals who were arrested, despite repeated requests made by MTA board member David Jones.
The additional information, specifically the subway station where the enforcement action was taken and the number of juveniles under 18 years old who were arrested or received summonses, will allow the public to have a clear understanding of how the NYPD is targeting its resources and which communities are predominantly impacted.
“What we know is that the Mayor’s insistence on using arrests and criminal prosecution for fare evasion, all while a civil alternative is readily available, has disproportionately impacted brown and black New Yorkers,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “However, what we do not know is how the NYPD is focusing its fare evasion enforcement and which precincts are spending most time and resources chasing after fare beaters. My bill will change that by providing the public with the data needed to understand the extent to which communities of color are over-policed when it comes to fare evasion. Sound public policy is only possible with complete data.”
In the first six months of 2017, the NYPD made more than 30,000 stops for jumping a turnstile. Of those who were stopped, nearly three-quarters were issued a civil summons for violating the MTA rules against fare evasion. However, during the same period, 8,625 individuals were arrested for “theft of services,” a misdemeanor offense under state penal law. Nearly 90% of those arrested for theft of services in 2017 were either Black or Latino.
The vast racial disparity in fare evasion arrests echoes figures from the past three years. An individual arrested for jumping a turnstile potentially faces serious consequences: a criminal record, time on Rikers Island, or deportation for even legal immigrants with a green card or visa.
Further, the Community Service Society in October released a report, “The Crime of Being Short $2.75: Policing Communities of Color at the Turnstile,” which detailed how the city’s prosecution of fare evasion as a crime disproportionately impacted low-income communities of color in Brooklyn in 2016.
“Thanks to the leadership of Council Member Rory Lancman, today, the City Council is expected to pass necessary subway fare evasion reporting legislation that will finally provide the public with regular, accessible information on just who is getting arrested or given summonses by location, race, gender and age,” said David R. Jones, CEO and President of the Community Service Society. “My organization’s analysis of data provided by public defenders for Brooklyn show that fare evasion arrests are disproportionately targeting poor, black neighborhoods. Reporting will reveal the full dimensions of what is happening citywide, the first step towards needed change. But, fundamentally, we should not be arresting people for the crime of being too poor to afford a MetroCard. We should be ensuring transit affordability through half-price fares for New Yorkers struggling to get to work, get to essential appointments, and get home to their kids.”
Lancman introduced the legislation in July 2017, and the Public Safety Committee formally considered the bill at a hearing in October 2017.
Prior to today’s City Council vote, Council Member Lancman held a press conference with the Community Service Society of New York and legal services providers to tout the importance of the fare evasion reporting bill.
“Communities of color bear the brunt of NYPD fare evasion enforcement, and these arrests can hold disastrous consequences leading to deportation and compromising New Yorkers’ access to public benefits,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Transparency on fare evasion enforcement is long overdue and this legislation will deliver this. I applaud Council Member Rory Lancman for leading on this issue and the Council for ensuring its swift passage.”
“BDS thanks Councilmember Lancman for shepherding this legislation to passage. This new law will expand on what we already know about the NYPD’s racially biased criminalization of poverty by requiring reporting on fare evasion arrest locations and fare evasion summonses, both of which will aid policymakers and the public in evaluating NYPD practices. Ultimately, BDS and many others believe New York City should stop arresting people who cannot afford to pay to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments and invest the savings in making transit more affordable to low-income residents. We support the Fair Fares plan backed by the Riders Alliance, the Community Service Society, a majority of the Council, and many others,” said Jared Chausow, Senior Policy Specialist at Brooklyn Defender Services.
“Fare evasion has often been characterized as ‘theft of services,’ but it can be more accurately described as another way of criminalizing poverty,” said Deborah Lolai, a criminal defense attorney with The Bronx Defenders. “As an organization that opens nearly 200 cases of alleged fare evasion cases a month, The Bronx Defenders has seen how this practice operates as an instrument of broken-windows policing. These measures ultimately target individuals who are choosing between putting food on the table or making it to work, a court hearing, or important services. We strongly support the effort led by Councilman Rory I. Lancman to require transparency in this important area. The City Council should adopt the proposed legislation and the Mayor sign it into law so all of us can know how often this absurd practice is happening, where, and to whom.”
“For most New Yorkers, public transit is the only way to access jobs, education and medical care. New Yorkers don’t jump the turnstile for fun; they do so because many people simply can’t afford the fare,” said Rebecca Bailin, Campaign Manager at the Riders Alliance. “Instead of arresting people for being too poor to access public transit, the City should guarantee that everyone can afford to ride by implementing Fair Fares for low-income transit riders. Thank you to Council Member Lancman for leading on this important issue, and for showing the public the disproportionate impact that the current policy has on low-income communities and communities of color in our city.”