MTA’s vast surveillance camera expansion has done little to reduce crime


Last year, the MTA dramatically increased the number of surveillance cameras in the metro system, installing 784 new cameras, three times more than in 2019. This happened against a backdrop of increasing traffic. crime, even with a record number of users, bringing the total number of cameras to more than 8,000.

Despite increased surveillance, however, the drop in metro crime in 2020 has not been proportional to the drop in ridership. Overall, major crimes are only down about 30% in 2020 from 2019. And some major crimes have actually increased. Burglaries, for example, fell from 7 in 2019 to 23 last year.

Ridership fell more than 80% from March to June, but criminal crimes fell only a few percentage points and thefts increased during this period, compared to the previous year. The number of rapes and murders, although still rare in the metro, has more than doubled, with six murders in 2020 compared to three in 2019, and seven rapes were reported in 2020, up from three in 2019. That includes one day cheeky. rape, in which the suspect was filmed by a commuter and later arrested.

Criminal experts claim that security cameras can act as a deterrent (some criminals are unlikely to commit crimes if they think they are being watched), but most of the time, cameras are a tool to identify them. suspects.

“Government camera systems that record lawful activity always pose a risk of abuse, especially when it comes to huge systems like the MTA’s,” wrote Christopher Dunn, legal director of the New York Civil. Liberties Union in a press release. “Such a system must limit access to the system and delete records quickly. Law enforcement agencies should never have access to video recordings, unless they are investigating a specific crime. And there should be clear prohibitions against the use of biometric surveillance such as facial recognition. “

New York City Transit interim president Sarah Feinberg admitted at a board meeting this month that the MTA does not generally speak openly about its surveillance camera program. But she insisted on highlighting the number of new cameras installed last year and their purpose.

“These are not cameras that necessarily feed information in real time, they are cameras to which we can then return if an incident occurs in the system, if the incident occurs on the path of this camera, we can return back, take a look in front of this camera and share the information with the NYPD and MTA police, “Feinberg said.” The fact that we were able to increase our use of this technology over the last year has led to a significant number of occasions where we have been able to share information, footage and footage with the police, which has led to the arrest of someone who has committed a significant crime in the system.

In some cases, cameras made the difference, such as the subway stampede at Lexington Avenue / 59th Street station, in which police quickly located a suspect. Police say the surveillance footage also helped identify a suspect in a stabbing in the Bronx last March. Yet despite the prevalence of cameras, it took nine months before a suspect was arrested in the arson case that killed a motorist last March.

The MTA said about half of the cameras, or 4,500, are monitored in real time, which remains a high number. The flows, according to a report from NY1, are being monitored by both police and MTA security officials. In 2019, NYCLU raised concerns about the NYPD using live feeds from security cameras to scan stations for the homeless.

Experts agree that the images are more useful in identifying suspects after a crime has been committed.

“Cameras are unfortunately not a great deterrent, especially for people with mental disabilities,” Dorothy Moses Schulz, professor emeritus at John Jay College and retired Metro-North Commuter Railroad captain, told Gothamist / WNYC. Police. . “So the cameras are good for catching people later, not so good for catching people red-handed unless they’re being watched. ”

Some of the system’s most horrific crimes of late, such as the deadly February subway cuts in allegedly by a mentally ill homeless man, sent hundreds of officers on a manhunt for a few days again. The NYPD deployed what the police commissioner called “a small army of detectives and investigators working all night, all over New York City” before locating the suspect.

After the arrest, NYPD Deputy Chief Brian McGee told reporters that police identified the suspect by his clothes. He was wearing the same clothes they saw him wearing on the surveillance video.

After the wave of stabbing in the subway in February, the MTA asked the NYPD to add 1,000 agents to the system. The department accepted 500. And Feinberg, who got the MTA to agree to spend more than $ 260 million to hire an additional 500 MTA police officers in 2019 – before the plan was put on hold during the pandemic – still maintains that more Officers are needed to patrol the subways.

“We need a stronger untrained presence in the system,” Feinberg said on Tuesday, addressing the Citizens Budget Committee. “I would like to see a uniformed presence in every station, frankly on every platform. We are at a critical time when people have to come back into the system and they have to feel safe. “

“There is no question that the use of video technology in our subways has played a key role in investigating criminal cases,” Kathleen O’Reilly, NYPD transit chief, wrote in a statement. “There are countless examples of how video footage has helped identify suspects, including from the cell phone cameras of witnesses and bystanders. We are confident that continuing to add more cameras throughout the system will help this effort, and we look forward to seeing cameras in every metro station one day. “


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