DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Straphangers will see more NYPD officers underground thanks to a new police effort to inspect subway cars more frequently after a spate of slashings on the subway and the street.
Even though crime in the subway is at its lowest levels in decades, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the effort will address the "perception" of subway riders that underground crime is up.
"Not only do you have to keep people safe, we have to make sure they feel safe. By people seeing uniformed cops in the system they feel safe," Chief of Department James O'Neill said at a press conference with Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The officers will also be able to better communicate with their colleagues above ground following a $100 million effort by the MTA to make sure officers can communicate with each other on their radios.
Currently, officers working underground and those above ground have radios operating on two different frequencies.
"Until now an officer who spent time above ground would 'go dark' the moment he or she went into the subway system so we didn't have the kind of communication we needed among our officers," de Blasio said.
The new system allows all officers to be on the same frequency, explained Deputy Commissioner for Information Technology Jessica Tisch.
The problem has existed since O'Neill worked as a transit police officer in the mid-1980s, he said.
"This was something that was stalled in bureaucracy, infighting for decades," said Bratton, who credited Tisch with getting all parties to come to an agreement.
"We originally coined the phrase: Can you hear me now?" said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former transit police officer. "We were so close to just two cups and a string, hoping that we could communicate to our counterparts in our calls for help."
Now, all officers will be on the same UHF frequency. The program is currently in the pilot phase in The Bronx and Manhattan, where 78 percent of the MTA's 278 underground stations are located.
The new communication tools will better allow officers to beef up the train inspections they are doing in the wake of the increase in subway slashings.
Overall crime in the subway remains low. It's up .6 percent in February compared to this time last year with 174 major incidents versus 173 this time last year.
"We've had this spate of slashings. We take it very seriously. There is not a pattern...but we still have to go after each and every one of them," de Blasio said.
Chief of Transit Joseph Fox said the inspection unit will work in teams of one sergeant and up to eight officers who will be ready to inspect a train when it pulls into the station.
"The conductor will get on and make an announcement: police activity, momentary delay," Fox said.
"The announcement brings awareness that cops are there," Bratton said. "What they're looking for are ill passengers, those that might be causing problems."
The officers look "at everybody, makes sure everything is OK, is seen, sees what's in there comes back out," added Fox.
De Blasio said the action will not cause much delay.
Fox could not provide a number for how many officers are conducting this patrol, which was already in existence, but said that the increase was "substantial" and "significant" and that there are many more officers out doing the patrol than two months ago.
"We are not ever going to go back to those bad old days," de Blasio said.