Undercover and underground with NYPD elite anti-crime subway unit

BRONX, New York (WABC) -- Undercover. Underground. Members of an elite anti-crime unit of the NYPD in the New York City transit system go largely unseen by subway riders, but tackle one of the most pervasive crimes in the system.

"Sleeping passenger crime right now is a problem," said Deputy Inspector Zaheer Azeez, the Commanding Officer in Transit District 11.

It's especially true among those who nod off riding the trains during overnight hours and become the prey of professional thieves.

An undercover police lieutenant, nicknamed "The Closer" for his many arrests, led a six-person team on the D train out of Yankee Stadium on the night Eyewitness News rode with them.

He said they go after, "Phones, wallets. If you have a bulge in your pockets they will cut your pocket. If you have a phone in your hand, they will take that phone right out of your hand without even realizing it."

The victim doesn't realize it until they wake up.

"These are guys 40 or 50 years old that have been arrested numerous times for this and they are experts at it," Azeez said.

"Grand larcenies are one of the biggest crimes in transit. These guys prey on innocent people. Every single night. It's tedious work, it's boring but we have to do it," the undercover lieutenant added.

Eyewitness News had been riding the subway for a couple of hours and the undercover officers did spot two suspects at one point. Both of them got off the train. We don't know if they were nervous or they just didn't find someone to steal from. The officers then began tracking a third suspect.

The undercover officers either secretly watch a suspect or become a sleeping decoy.

"A lot of these individuals are looking for cops, but looking for male cops. So they don't realize the female sitting in the corner, so that's one of the advantages," said an undercover sergeant who heads of a team of five officers.

That team in Transit District 11 has arrested 11 of 15 suspects since the start of the year. It's difficult but rewarding work that never ends.

"They can easily cross borough boundaries, so it's very challenging," the sergeant said.

On this night there were no arrests, just their hard work undercover and underground.
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.