MANHATTAN (CN) – After the New York City Council took measures to ensure there is no racial bias in subway arrests for fare evasion, a new lawsuit claims the NYPD is refusing to disclose telltale numbers.
Passed into law last year, city law 14-172 requires the police department to post quarterly reports on its website regarding arrests for fare evasion. The new law, which was sponsored by New York City Council Member Rory Lancman, was passed to determine whether such arrests are racially or socioeconomically disparate.
Represented by the law firm Emery Celli, Lancman went to court Wednesday to compel disclosure of the records. Noting that the statutorily reports have been conspicuously missing over the past year, Lancman quotes police officials as saying that the data could compromise public safety and embolden terrorists.
“The NYPD does not have the authority to disregard laws that it believes fail to properly weigh security, anti-discrimination, and transparency considerations,” the 19-page petition states.
“The City Council and the mayor make the laws of New York City, and the NYPD, like every other New Yorker, is bound by those laws,” the petition continues.
Lancman brought the petition in Manhattan Supreme Court with the Community Service Society of New York and that group’s CEO David Jones.
The society notes that city police made nearly 56,000 theft-of-service arrests in 2015 and 2016, with the vast majority being for fare evasion on city buses and subways. Of those cases, close to 90 percent were of black or Latino individuals, many of whom jumped turnstiles merely because they had no money to pay the $2.75 subway fare, the petition claims.
Theft-of-service arrests are misdemeanors that can lead to $100 fines or a year in jail.
“Many arrestees also end up with a damaging criminal record,” the petition states. “Non-citizens, even legal permanent residents, can even face deportation simply for being short a few dollars.”
In 2016 the Community Service Society launched its “Fair Fares” campaign to advocate for half-price MetroCards for New Yorkers living below the poverty line. Under Jones, who also serves on the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the group also has focused on fare-evasion arrests.
Jones says NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox agreed to turn over data regarding fare-evasion arrests but initially provided only data for the first quarter of 2017.
A June 2017 CSSNY report, which was created using data from two other watchdog groups of fare-evasion arrests in Brooklyn, found that the highest rate of fare-evasion arrests were in predominantly black neighborhoods, much higher than even in low-income neighborhoods that were not mostly black.
“The data strongly suggested that this disparity in arrests for ‘jumping the turnstile’ across Brooklyn neighborhoods could not be dismissed as simply attributable to increased police presence in high-crime areas,” the petition states.
NYPD officials countered that the high number of fare-evasion arrests in those neighborhoods stem from increased police presence due to the large number of criminal complaints, the petition states.
Seeking greater transparency, Lancman, who represents the 24th Council District in Queens, drafted a bill in June 2017 that requires the NYPD to post the data on its website. He later co-wrote a Daily News op-ed with Jones calling the arrests were part of the “criminalization of poverty.”
Under the law, the NYPD was ordered to publish its first report of arrest data no later than Jan. 30, 2018. The department has since failed to publish quarterly reports by the end of April and July.
The department initially blamed its report delay on logistics but later said that posting the data could help terrorists determine which subway stations have less of a police presence.
“This explanation makes little sense, as the data presents a retrospective review of enforcement actions in the preceding three months, not a schedule of forthcoming NYPD deployments,” the petition states.
Lancman and CSSNY say the NYPD also has stalled in responding to a related request under the Freedom of Information Law; the NYPD allegedly wants several months to review the request for the data.
Counsel for the city meanwhile take the position that Lancman has no standing to sue to mandate the NYPD comply with city law.
Over the past several months, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neil has maintained that the department is working on compiling the data, but he has stressed that he wants to make sure it cannot be used to seek soft targets at certain subway stations or evade public safety.
“We’re working quickly to reach an agreement that satisfies the intent of the legislation without posing a threat to public safety,” a representative for the mayor’s office said in an email forwarded by the NYPD.