The MTA will install two surveillance cameras on all subway cars, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday, saying the devices will help straphangers feel safe.
The 13,000 cameras, which cost a total of $5.5 million, will be installed on 6,455 subway cars over the next three years.
Hochul said she hopes the surveillance will result in more people choosing to ride the subway, where ridership remains down 37% on weekdays – despite reaching a post-pandemic high just last week.
“You think Big Brother is watching you on the subways, you’re absolutely right. That is our intent,” Hochul said. “We are going to be having surveillance of activities on the subway trains and that is going to give people great peace of mind. If you’re concerned about this, best answer is don’t commit any crimes on the subways.”
The MTA already has 10,000 cameras in all 472 of its subway stations.
The shortcomings of that network were laid bare in the mass shooting on a Brooklyn N train in April. Surveillance cameras at the 36th Street station weren’t transmitting images the day of the attack due to hardware and software issues.
The police did obtain footage of the suspect entering and leaving the subway system from MTA cameras at other stations.
During the pandemic, the MTA accelerated the installation of security cameras across stations. Only about half are monitored in real time. The new cameras in the subway trains will also not be monitored in real time, but instead be used to identify suspects after a crime is reported.
The MTA began piloting cameras on 100 subway train cars on the 2 and 4 lines in June.
Privacy advocates questioned the need for more surveillance.
“New York City is already home to tens of thousands of surveillance cameras and there’s no evidence this massive expansion of subway cameras will improve safety,” said Daniel Schwarz, a strategist at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Living in a sweeping surveillance state shouldn’t be the price we pay to be safe. Real public safety comes from investing in our communities, not from omnipresent government surveillance.”
He urged Hochul and the MTA to release more information on what the cameras will collect and how long it will be stored.
MTA spokesman Tim Minton countered that “cameras are ubiquitous in daily life, in stores, on sidewalks, in offices, at airports, on commuter railroads, on buses, and now in subway cars.”
This week, the MTA released findings from an August customer satisfaction survey that found security remains a top issue for riders. The survey found the No. 1 reason subway riders aren’t satisfied is “Personal Safety & Security.” When asked what would get riders to use the subway more frequently, the most common responses were “fewer people behaving erratically” and “personal security.”
NYPD subway crime statistics show there have been 1,507 major felonies, such as murder, rape, and grand larceny, through August. That’s a nearly 20% increase from last year, when both ridership and crime were low.
There have been five murders in the subway system this year. There have been eight rapes – double the previous year, NYPD stats show.
Excluding the first two years of the pandemic, however, the total number of felonies on public transit hasn't been this low since 2014.
NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey told MTA board members Monday that a joint effort by the city and state has succeeded in lowering crime. There are 350 officers patrolling the subways daily.
Overall, crime that occurs in the transit system makes up just 1.8% of all crime in the city.
“That is at or near an all-time low for crime in transit,” Corey said. “What I’m seeing right now is measurable sustained progress in addressing these conditions.”