Hochul deploys National Guard, state police to do mandatory bag checks in NYC subway

Soldiers from New York’s National Guard are coming to a subway station near you, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday.

Hochul, a Democrat, said 750 of the National Guard members — as well as state and MTA police officers — will be sent to busy stations to check riders’ bags as part of a new crackdown on transit crime.

During a news conference, the governor said the deployment aims to put passengers at ease after a string of high-profile violent crimes in the city’s transit system.

She said that if a rider is stopped, they’ll have to consent to a bag check in order to enter the station. While they can refuse, they’ll be barred from entering if they do so.

“They can refuse,” she said. “We can refuse them. They can walk.”

The soldiers will be deployed from a National Guard unit called the Joint Task Force Empire Shield. Hochul’s office confirmed they will be dressed in camouflage while they check bags.

Hochul and her office teased the new plan earlier this week and promised to deploy additional state personnel to the subways to supplement Mayor Eric Adams’ plans to station an additional 1,000 NYPD officers there.

She offered more detail on Wednesday and put forward a multipart plan centered around the increased bag checks.

The governor’s plan calls for the passage of a new bill that would allow judges to prohibit someone from riding public transit for three years if they’ve been convicted of assaulting a passenger. But that would require approval from the Democrat-led state Legislature, which has not yet weighed in.

Hochul denied any suggestion that the increased bag checks resembled the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies, calling it an “absolutely different dynamic.”

“For people who are thinking about a gun or knife on the subway, at least this creates a deterrent effect,” she said. “They might be thinking, ‘You know what? It just may not be worth it, because I listened to the mayor and I listened to the governor and they have a lot more people who may be checking my bags.’”

The governor declined to say how long the random checks may be in place.

“I’m not going to telegraph to would-be criminals the date this may stop,” she said. “That is not a good strategy for protecting the public.”

Hochul also said the MTA is in the process of deploying more cameras on the subway, including one in every train car. She said the person who slashed a conductor in the neck on the A line last week — who remains at large — would have been caught if there had been a camera in the train car.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Richard Davis, who last week criticized MTA officials over the attack on the conductor, said in a statement that MTA Chair “Janno Lieber and MTA honchos are late to this conversation.”

“For months, we have been sounding the alarm about the terrifying acts of violence and aggression afflicting our members as they simply look to move riders safely through the city,” Davis said. “And for months, we have been ignored and our calls for action disregarded. As a result, riders and workers alike have suffered.”

NYPD data shows that while subway crime decreased by 2.6% last year from 2022, more people were assaulted on the transit system in 2023 than any other year since at least 1996. And data from January shows the NYPD reported a 46.7% increase in subway crime from the same month in 2022.

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Riders Alliance, said in a statement that the governor’s move was “well-intentioned” but “more likely to increase the perception of crime among people who don’t ride public transit than to protect the millions of riders and workers on platforms and trains each day.”

Pearlstein urged officials to invest more in “housing, healthcare and other critical social services to address the root causes” of violence across the city.

The nonprofit New York Civil Liberties Union also criticized Hochul’s plan, calling it “overreaction and overreach.”

“These heavy-handed approaches will, like stop-and-frisk, be used to accost and profile Black and Brown New Yorkers, ripping a page straight out of the Giuliani playbook,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement, referring to the city’s former mayor. “Today’s announcement fails to address longstanding problems of homelessness, poverty, or access to mental health care.”

As part of her announcement, Hochul said she will expand so-called SCOUT teams, which are made up of mental health experts and police officers who reach out to people with severe mental health issues on city streets and in the subways.

The city and state launched the teams as a pilot program, but Hochul said she plans to spend $20 million to expand the initiative by the end of 2025. The MTA reported on Wednesday that the SCOUT teams have in the last 75 days put 15 people into the hospital involuntarily, provided medical treatment to another 15 people and placed 45 people into Safe Haven shelters.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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