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Securing the Subways

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Securing the Subways

10 Blocks podcast January 21, 2022
New York
Infrastructure and energy
Public safety

Former Metro-North police captain and current Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Dorothy Moses Schulz joins Brian Anderson to discuss a recent tragedy in the New York City subway, the likely effects of Alvin Bragg’s prosecution memo, and the Eric Adams administration’s approach to rising crime.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Dorothy Moses Schulz. She's been on the show before. She's an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, emerita professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a retired MTA Metro-North railroad police captain, was Metro-North's and Conrail's first female captain. She's also served as a safety and security consultant to transit agencies across the country. Dorothy, thanks very much for coming on the show again.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: My pleasure. Thank you.

Brian Anderson: Let's talk about public safety in New York, before we turn to your most recent article in City Journal. Alvin Bragg, the newly elected DA for Manhattan, recently released his now-notorious Day One Memo. In that, he outlined a policy of non-prosecution for a variety of low-level offenses. He ordered line prosecutors to seek diminished sentences for crimes such as armed robbery, and he vowed that the only people who will see jail time, basically, will be murderers, shooters who inflict serious harm, sex offenders, and a couple of other pretty limited categories.

Now, City Journal has covered this memo extensively through a bunch of pieces on our site. I encourage readers to check out that material. But this is, Dorothy, a significant shift from anything New York has seen before, and it's sure to have some significant consequences. So what's your view of that memo, of Bragg, and what you think some of the consequences might be?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: The one thing I can say about Bragg is that he said this from day one. He said as a candidate that this is what he was going to do. What's amazing to me is that he was elected, number one, and that, number two, people are acting as if they didn't know that this is what he was going to do. It's interesting, in doing the piece on the Union Pacific, one of the things that I found is that George Gascon, the DA in Los Angeles, issued an almost identical memo almost a year before, December 2020, and I think we see what the results are in LA and in other parts of California where there are other so-called progressive prosecutors. All of those cities have had huge increases in crime.

If you tell people ahead of time that they're not going to be prosecuted, obviously, there's going to be more crime, which is not to say that the people doing the crime are reading City Journal or The New York Times or The New York Post, but they have their own information outlets. And as soon as you find out that basically you have impunity to do what you've been doing, you are going to continue doing it, and more people will do it. I feel very bad for the mayor, actually, who I think we've said before that I've known for many years. He was a student of mine. He would like to get tough on crime, but you can't be tough on crime if you're not tough on criminals. So I don't see how that's going to work in New York successfully, other than for the criminals.

Brian Anderson: Yeah, I'd like to come back to Adams in a minute. But if you needed a reminder that crime has an enormous human cost, we just need to look at what happened last week when Michelle Go, a 40-year-old woman, was pushed onto the tracks and killed at the Times Square-42nd Street subway stop by a mentally ill homeless man. Now, this happened as subway ridership remains well below its pre-pandemic levels. Subway crime is rising.

You worked as a transit police officer for many years. What's happened to the New York transit system since the beginning of the pandemic? Why have the subways become such a magnet for disturbed individuals? What can be done about that?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: Transit facilities have always been magnets for homeless and people with mental problems. As a matter of fact, in many states they're categorized as an attractive nuisance. The homeless issue has always been one, was one we dealt with at Grand Central, and I'm sure the mayor dealt with when he was a transit cop.

I think that the issue now is homelessness has increased substantially. While I have no statistics, it's my feeling that a much larger percentage of the homeless people have mental or drug problems, which you can maybe lump together as one problem because it has the same effect. The other thing is, with fewer people in the subway, the people who are using it as a residential address are more obvious. They feel a greater sense, I guess, that it's their space. That's going to continue because, unfortunately, it looks like office workers will not be returning. Now people are more and more frightened again of using the subway.

Unfortunately, it's a downward cycle, and I wish I had an answer to it. Unfortunately, I don't. I don't think that more mental health outreach workers, though, is going to be the answer. There are not enough of them. They can't handle the problem.

As long as it's voluntary for people to comply or leave the subway, most of them prefer to stay there because it's safer than the shelters, which is a terrible thing to say. That's been true, though, for 40 years. People told us they stayed in the waiting room in Grand Central, or even the bus terminal or Penn Station, because it was safer than the facilities that were available. Sadly, I think that's probably still true, and again, probably more true.

Brian Anderson: Now, has anything similar started to happen on the commuter rail?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: It's never really been the same problem in the commuter rail. I think that's primarily... First of all, I think Long Island Rail Road Police and Metro-North Police, now MTA police, I don't want to date myself, have more time and the luxury to deal with the problems. I also think that the communities that the trains travel through, the local police are more able to check the stations. The problems, in other words, I guess, are not as intense.

The intensity tends to be at the terminals, the bus terminal, obviously, also. It's not rail, but it's the same thing. Whereas I think in the subway, you have more of a movable feast. Poor choice of words. But the homeless people, or the unhoused, or those with mental problems feel they have much more access to the entire facility, riding from here to there, getting off wherever they choose to, getting back on. It's much easier for them, and therefore much harder for the police to control.

Brian Anderson: Now, you mentioned a moment ago our new mayor, Eric Adams. He took office this month. He ran on the promise to crack down on rising violent crime in the city, and he's made some moves in that direction. He's ignored the progressive demands not to reinstate solitary confinement in jails, for example, and he's continuing to push for the reinstatement of the NYPD's plainclothes anti-gun unit, which was shut down in his predecessor's administration.

We've been writing about Eric Adams for many, many years. He's got a long and complicated career. You mentioned he was a student of yours. What's your take on his administration? What do you think the best version of a Mayor Adams would entail, and what are the warning signs? What should we watch out for?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: I think it's going to be, as I said, very, very difficult for him. I think the fact that he has a police background, obviously, is terrific because he knows where the problems are externally and also within the police department, obviously. But I think that he's going to have a very, very difficult time because the people who did not vote for him are, in many cases, the opinion-makers.

His coalition, to the extent you could call it that, I think was working-class people or everyday New Yorkers in the outer boroughs, maybe not the Bronx, but probably Queens and Brooklyn. I think those are, obviously, not the people who are supporting Bragg. Now, Brooklyn also has, I guess, Gonzalez. You could call him a progressive DA also, but really not in comparison to Bragg. In comparison to Bragg, he's almost an old-line district attorney.

I think the problem in New York that the mayor is going to have is he's got five separate DAs, each with his or her own agenda. The focus, though, as always in New York, is on Manhattan. That's where I think he's going to have the biggest problems. It's going to be very, very hard for him. Bragg seems to feel that he has his own constituency, and a lot of them are people who have a lot to say in the media and business people, although I see the business community is a little outraged by some of his statements.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: But Gascon has not backed down in LA. In fact, none of the progressive DAs have backed down, and crime is up in all their cities. I don't understand what they think their job is. I don't know. I could imagine if some police chief said, "Well, I'm just not going to enforce the law, and I'm going to tell my cops not to," I think people would be up in arms, even the people who want to "defund the police." But here you have people basically saying, "I'm getting elected to not do my job," and nobody seems to care. I find it very bizarre.

Brian Anderson: Yeah, we'll see. A lot of these DAs do get elected in very low-turnout elections, off-year elections sometimes, that can be dominated by just a handful of organized votes.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: The activists, so to speak.

Brian Anderson: It is a problem. Well, we're just going to have to see if people reach a point where they rise up and reject this at the ballot.

Speaking of Los Angeles, your most recent piece, I'd like to just talk about that briefly. It's called Off the Rails in LA. We posted it several days ago. It's about this spate of package theft that's going on on the Union Pacific trains traveling through Los Angeles. A Union Pacific official appealed to the district attorney, Gascon, asking him to reconsider a December 2020 non-prosecution directive. The official noted that theft has gotten so bad in the LA area on the trains that UPS and FedEx were considering diverting rail business away from the city entirely. So what the heck is going on there?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: Well, you saw the lack of urgency. He didn't even respond. Somebody in his staff responded, which I found outrageous, and basically said, "Oh, well, we'll get around to it when we have time." I don't know what they're so busy with, because they're not prosecuting any crimes.

The sheriff's department and the police department took the homicide of the police officer to the U.S. attorney because they didn't feel it would be handled sufficiently by the DA's office. So if they felt he was lackadaisical in his response to the off-duty shooting of a police officer, what chance does the Union Pacific have? Maybe they have more economic muscle, as some of the companies in New York are starting maybe to push back on Bragg. But if you're lackadaisical about dealing with the homicide of a police officer, or of anybody, how interested is he going to be in theft of property?

I don't know what's going to get these guys and gals, ladies and gentlemen, to wake up because, really, the people who are being hurt are the people who live in these communities. Bragg says he's going to keep people out of jail. Well, that's nice, but the people who he's keeping out of jail are victimizing the people in their neighborhoods primarily. They're not victimizing people on the Upper East Side or people who take limousines to their office. They're victimizing the people who need to get around in New York or in LA.

A nurse about to retire was just killed at a bus stop in LA. The mayor is trying now to do something in California, San Francisco, LA. Even those who were in favor of less enforcement, mayors who are now looking for greater levels of enforcement are not getting any encouragement. They're getting pushback.

Brian Anderson: Yeah. It's a remarkable situation, and it shows how quickly things can unravel with the wrong policies in place and the wrong people in office. So we've just got to hope, again, that the problem is so grave that folks are going to take political action.

Dorothy, thanks very much for coming on again. Our guest today was Dorothy Moses Schulz. Her work is found on the City Journal website. You can check that out. I will link to her author page in the description. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @CityJournal, and on Instagram @cityjournal_mi. And if you like what you've heard on today's podcast, please give us nice ratings on iTunes.

Dorothy, thanks. Always great to talk with you.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: My pleasure. Have a great day.

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Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

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