The Challenge of Making New York’s 472 Subway Stations Safer

The scale of the New York City subway system is vast.

Some 472 subway stations, depending how they’re counted. Nearly 6,500 train cars. Roughly three million people crisscrossing through, 24 hours every day.

The effort to protect it has sought to be expansive, too.

Officers had already been working an extra 1,200 daily overtime shifts to patrol the system when officials roughly doubled their presence by deploying an additional 1,000 officers. Then another 1,000 National Guardsmen, State Police troopers and transit officers were added this month, and 800 more police officers this week.

But recent subway attacks have been impossible to predict. Some occurred on moving trains and others on platforms far from the center of Manhattan. Some have happened in the still of night and others during busy rush hours.

Public officials have sought to tamp fears about a string of frightening crimes in the transit network by flooding it with wave after wave of police officers, mental health workers and cameras. But after every deployment, another violent event has followed — statistically rare within the huge system, but still terrifying to individual riders.

Those episodes, the most recent on Monday, when a man was shoved off a platform into the path of a moving train by a stranger and killed, have raised questions about the effectiveness of those tactics and illustrated the impracticability of patrolling every inch of the continent’s busiest transportation network.

At least $89 million has been spent on police overtime alone during the pandemic to make New Yorkers feel safe in the subway. Another $20 million was budgeted this month for teams of mental health workers to move mentally ill homeless people out. Thousands of surveillance cameras have been installed in the past two years, adding up to a total of about 16,000.

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