MIDTOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- Calls are growing louder to make the New York City transit system safer, and now the MTA board is planning to shift their focus to removing people dealing with severe mental illness from the subway system.
Thousands of additional officers are now patrolling the New York City transit system. During peak hours, officers will be posted in two out of three stations, an unprecedented deployment of NYPD manpower underground.
"Much of it is going to be extension of their ordinary tour," NYPD Transit Chief Jason Wilcox said. "So, if they do, you know, if they work in the morning hours, there'll be extended into the evening hours. And our goal is to maximize as many cops in as many stations and as on many trains because we're still very committed to doing the train runs."
In the past two weeks, several riders have been shoved to the tracks, shot and stabbed. Most, if not all of the incidents, were random and unprovoked.
Nine people have been killed. These horrifying crimes have happened in spite of the increased police patrols.
Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett talked to MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and asked him why the problems persist despite cops being poured into the subways in unprecedented numbers.
"What's changed is in recent weeks, we've seen an upsurge in very disturbing incidents," Lieber said. "That's why the time for action is now and the mayor and the governor have taken action."
Lieber says it's clear that the problem is being driven by violent, mentally disturbed people who need to be out of the system and off the streets.
"We're going to re-instruct all the clinicians so they know about involuntary commitment powers that they have, and they can use," Lieber said. "And we're going to create a specific new facility or facilities so that severely mentally ill people can be kept indoors so they can start to get better, and they can stop impacting on the subways and scaring riders."
Also of note, in 2020, the New York State legislature began allowing judges to ban certain criminals from the transit system for up to three years. Bans can be imposed on those who are registered sex offenders, those convicted of sex offenses against an MTA customer, passenger or employee and anyone who assaults an MTA employee.
In a letter obtained exclusively by Eyewitness News, Lieber reached out to both the chief administrative judge and the acting chief judge of New York State asking them to please remind judges of the ban authority which has never been used.
In a second letter also obtained exclusively by Eyewitness News, Lieber addressed the district attorneys of all counties served by the MTA, stating that the current statute is "plainly too narrow."
"The current statute is plainly too narrow. For example, there is no good reason why rider-on-worker assaults are ban-eligible while rider-on-rider assaults are not," Lieber said. "The MTA is developing a proposal to close this and other gaps in the statute. We will circulate proposed legislative language, which we hope you will consider supporting."
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