The state attorney general’s office is investigating whether the NYPD is targeting communities of color with its controversial crackdown on fare evasion.
In a letter Monday to new Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Attorney General Letitia James requested fare evasion data to determine if any racial bias exists or if any discriminatory practices have been used by cops at subway stations throughout the city.
“We’ve all read the stories and seen the disturbing videos of men, women, and children being harassed, dragged away, and arrested by officers in our city’s subway system, which is why we are launching an investigation into this deeply troublesome conduct,” James said in a statement.
“If groups of New Yorkers have been unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin, my office will not hesitate to take legal action. While we are hopeful that the NYPD will cooperate thoroughly with this investigation, we will not hesitate to use every investigative tool at our disposal to protect subway riders and the people of this city.”
Existing NYPD data shows that people of color make up an overwhelming majority of straphangers who get cuffed for dodging the fare.
Of the 682 people arrested for fare evasion between April and June 2019, 86% were black or Latino.
And of nearly 1,000 fare evaders arrested during the first three months of last year, roughly 87% of them were black or Latino.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Current and former NYPD officers have recently alleged in sworn statements that — through at least 2015 — the NYPD had an unofficial policy of targeting black and Hispanic people for fare evasion and other low-level violations in the city’s subway system, James said.
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But the alleged policy may still be in operation, she said.
Between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic New Yorkers received nearly 70 % of all civil summonses for fare evasion, even though they only account for slightly more than half of the city’s population.
During that same period, they made up nearly 90 % of arrests for fare evasion.
James’ letter calls for information that includes the number of officers assigned to every subway station, policy and training directives and data on notices, summonses, and arrests broken down by race and age.
The data dive was applauded by several elected officials.
“Riding while black or brown is not a crime. Neither is poverty,” said state Assemblyman Michael Brown. “I hope that this investigation does not confirm what too many of us fear — that race is the reason so many are targeted rather than actual misconduct. We must stop penalizing the poor and must start ensuring fairness not fear.”
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