Manhattan subway riders may be giving serious thought to jumping the turnstile these days. District Attorney Cy Vance announced that, effective this month, his office will no longer prosecute fare beaters unless there is an open warrant or a past violent felony conviction. Vance’s unilateral decision that this violation is no longer serious enough to enforce is an open invitation to start riding the subways for free, especially with how dissatisfied New Yorkers are with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
This ludicrous policy is wrong for a number of reasons. First, the job of a district attorney is to prosecute those who violate the laws on the books. And despite how Vance has now decided to treat it, fare beating is a crime.
Specifically, according to Section 165.15 of New York State penal law, a person is guilty of “theft of services” when they have the “intent to obtain railroad, subway, bus, air, taxi, or any other public transportation method without payment of the lawful charge.”
This is a Class A criminal misdemeanor.
Like all laws passed by legislators, it is the job of the police to enforce them and the district attorneys to prosecute them. However, the Manhattan district attorney’s office seems to feel quite differently, according to Chief Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo,
“We just sort of said to ourselves, ‘What if we decided ourselves what we thought was worthy of the criminal justice system?’ ” she told the website Politico.
This logic sets a scary precedent and must not be permitted.
Another major concern about this new practice is the loss of revenue to the MTA. We all know the MTA needs serious cash and that the subway system is a mess. We also know that Mayor DeBlasio and Gov. Cuomo are at odds over how much New York City should contribute to improve the system. This is why congestion pricing is being considered, and there will be no surprise if fare hikes will also be announced sometime soon.
It is ridiculous to encourage more subway riders to jump the turnstiles, causing the loss of much needed revenue.
And even though it shouldn’t, if the Manhattan DA’s office really wanted to reduce or eliminate its prosecution of those who beat the fare, it shouldn’t broadcast its plan to the entire city. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to figure out that more individuals will now be emboldened to take their chances riding for free with this news.
Finally, prosecution of fare beating as well as other quality-of-life violations has been a key factor in transforming our city from being “ungovernable” to being the safest big city in America. Many credit this renaissance to the efforts of our NYPD and its attention to minor crimes.
And one of those which was majorly enforced at the beginning of the turnaround was fare beating.
“The New York miracle, if you will, began with fare evasion — fare evasion enforcement on the subways 25 years ago,” former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in February 2014.
It has been demonstrated over and over that when the NYPD arrests fare beaters, they often find dangerous criminals in the process.
The threat of criminal prosecution pushes most people to follow the law. How can any reasonable person argue with this?
Think about it: If the NYPD knows that the Manhattan DA’s Office will just let their arrests walk, what is the sense of going through the motions to book them? And once we go down this road, we’ll end up with a free for all on our already crowded, dirty, and delayed Manhattan subway lines.
I have never hidden my opposition to Mayor DeBlasio and his policies, but I commend him today for opposing Vance on this issue. If Cy Vance decides that “theft of services” is not worthy of prosecution, what other crimes will he ignore? Is shoplifting next?
It is a reasonable question to ask.
Bob Capano has been an adjunct political science professor at the City University of New York who has worked for Republican and Democratic elected officials in Brooklyn.
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