info 06.8.10

Transit Police in Need of
Adult Supervision

This is no way to treat New York City visitors.

Three women in their 20s and 30s from Taiwan were spending their final day of their first trip to New York shopping in midtown this past Saturday. At about 2:30pm, at an entrance to the 42nd Street and 8th Avenue subway, they took out the unlimited 7-day MetroCards they'd been using.

One swiped and went through the turnstile. The second friend was having trouble with her card, swiping several times. The turnstile then indicated that the card had just been used and wouldn't allow her access. They didn't see a token booth. So the third friend suggested they both go through the turnstile on her card, which they did.

Before we go further, the MTA claims it lost anywhere from $7 to $27 million last year alone because of fare evasion. That's a lot of lost revenue, if true, and even if the give-or-take $20 million doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. We've got no problem with the Transit Police giving tickets to farebeaters. We do have a problem with just about everything that took place after the two women went through the turnstile together. This is what happened next:

Two young men in "t-shirts and low-hanging shorts" rushed up to them shouting "Miss, miss, you can't do that." They flashed ID on a lanyard around their necks and identified themselves as police. The three women understand some English but speak it haltingly. One of them said to her friends, "They aren't in uniform, are they real police or is this a scam?" Frightened by the turn of events, one of the women took a couple of steps backwards.

That was enough for a uniformed female cop to coming running up to them. They tried to explain that they had a weekly MetroCard but that they had had trouble with one of the turnstiles. They said please take our MetroCards and check. The Transit cops did not.

Taken to that station's police station, a Transit Cop accused one of them of having an expired passport. When she tried to explain, in broken English, that there are two dates on a Taiwanese passport—date of issue and date of expiration—the policeman said, "No! You're a liar!" They asked if they could make a phone call. The answer was no. One asked if she could use the bathroom. No.

After an hour or so, the woman who 'stepped backward' (and who wasn't involved in the 'fare evasion') was given a ticket for Disorderly Conduct and allowed to leave while her two friends were handcuffed and escorted out of the station, into a car, and taken to the Columbus Circle Transit precinct.

At that precinct, they were told to remove their shoelaces, they were fingerprinted and photographed, after which they were deposited into a cell. Even though there was a Chinese/American officer on duty, in the room, who spoke Mandarin and who could have facilitated communication, they were not allowed to communicate with him to explain what had happened.

Meanwhile, the third woman, the one who was not taken into custody, called two New York friends, one Asian man and one non-Asian man. When the three walked into the 59th Street Precinct, one of the two friends detained heard the cop at the desk say to the arresting officer, "Their friends are here and they brought someone." The arresting officer said, "Oh, sh*t."

The officers' attitude suddenly shifted and they explained to the New York friends that the two women were being held while their prints and background were sent to Albany and to the FBI.

Around 8pm, a document that included a court date was bought to the two women to sign. They were told that if they don't show up to court, they'd be arrested. They asked for either the Chinese-speaking officer or their New York friend (who was waiting outside) to help them decipher what the ticket said. The officer said impatiently, "Why don't you understand? You want to go, right? If you don't sign, you can't go!" They signed and one of the two was released; the second woman was released close to 9pm.

Whether the Transit Police were trying to make quota or assisting the MTA in reducing the farebeater shortfall or even rooting out terrorist/farebeaters or illegal alien/farebeaters is not the point. Tourist dollars count for a lot, too. There's something to be said for treating NYC guests well. And something to be said for NYC police officers not acting like jerks.

ny times building (from 2008)

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