Enforcement of NYC subway safety plan underway, with more to come

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City's push to make the subways safer is in full swing, one day after new teams comprised of police officers, mental health clinicians and social service outreach workers hit the transit system.

But officials warn it will not be an overnight fix.

NYPD Transit Chief Jason Wilcox called Monday "opening night" for the city's homeless outreach initiative.

"Enforcement of rules and regs really is not the long-term solution to getting them out, and we understand that," he said. "But we're also deeply committed to enforcing order and the rules and regs, really stepping up what needs to be done to make the system safer."

In two shifts, first between 4 p.m. and midnight and the second between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., more than two dozen police officers escorted multiple teams on multiple lines throughout the system as they engaged the homeless.

"We anticipate this process, this endeavor, will be going every night, seven days a week, between those evening and overnight hours until further notice," Wilcox said. "I know it's just started last night, but we've been working on this for weeks, just working out the logistics, the staffing, the planning. So when it started last night, we were ready to go. It went fairly seamlessly."

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It is happening as other NYPD officers patrol stations and trains, enforcing the MTA's Code of Conduct and cracking down on things like sleeping on trains, fare-beating, and carrying large piles of trash and possessions.

"When people get on a train, especially if it's late at night, and there aren't many folks on and they see people engaged in breaking the rules in one way or another, whether it's smoking or open drug use and lying down and taking up five seats,. they get uncomfortable," MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said. "Not because they feel immediate threat, but they see someone's breaking the rules, what else might they do? So that's why the mayor statement that he's going to direct the police to enforce the subway rules of conduct is incredibly important. We don't want to criminalize anything. We're not interested in putting people in jail. What we're interested in is having an environment like you see around us today, where people can sit down, get where they're going, and not feel uncomfortable because there's a lot of rule breaking going on. That's the goal and that's what the mayor said he's going to deliver."

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So far this year, arrests in transit are up 74% and summonses are up 17%. The most by far are for fare evasion, followed by smoking, drinking, obstructing seats and public urination.

Police are supposed to be working with homeless advocates, but one man told Eyewitness News he was kicked out of the system without anywhere to go.

"Give me a summons? I can't go nowhere now," he said. "What are you talking about, pay a summons? You're gonna give me a summons for being homeless? For real? I don't want to live like this. Who wants to live like this?"

Riders say there is still work that needs to be done.

"I think it's about damn time that they do it, because you're taking your life into your hands coming down here," one rider said.

The rollout follows a weekend with at least eight violent subway incidents, and on Tuesday morning, the NYPD released a picture of a hatchet they say was used to in an attempted assault in the transit system on Monday.

Police say a man pulled the hatchet out of his jacket and lunged at the victim.

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The subway safety plan will eventually involve officers in the End-of-the-Line initiative, where everyone is required to leave the train at the end of the line.

Despite multiple recent high profile crime incidents, homeless advocates say those who are homeless and suffering from mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators.

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