Intense Focus on Assaults Brings DA's, MTA, Unions Together

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video: MTA CEO & Chairman Joseph Lhota's address
Conference logo shows partnership
Conference logo shows partnership

The gap between crime and punishment on the rails and on the roads seems to be narrowing. Transit workers, for years suspicious of the MTA’s and the NYPD’s resolve in following up on assault cases, should be heartened by what took place on May 10 in downtown Brooklyn. Four of New York’s District Attorneys (the fifth sent his top deputy), MTA brass including CEO Joe Lhota, and the leadership of both the TWU and the ATU had a serious discussion about the growing numbers of assaults and how to prevent and prosecute them. Watching and listening intently were some 300 rank and file and officers from Local 100, ATU Locals 726 and 1056, and others.

Each of the District Attorneys assured transit workers that any assault against one of their own while on the job was being fast-tracked inside their offices – with most “vertically prosecuting” the case – i.e., assigning an ADA who stays on it from start to finish, paying special attention to the victim. MTA CEO Joe Lhota revealed that the NYPD was putting assaults against transit workers into its fabled COMPSTAT meetings even as the Authority was increasing the numbers of surveillance cameras in use on buses and on subway platforms. Still, Lhota conceded that “assaults are on the rise and it’s unacceptable to me and we need to do more.”

Local and International Presidents – including TWU Local 100’s John Samuelsen, Philadelphia SEPTA TWU Local 234 President John Johnson, Jr., TWU International President Jim Little, and ATU International President Larry Hanley along with ATU Presidents Danny Cassella (726) and I. Daneek Miller (1056) – didn’t let the MTA or the DA’s off the hook, expressing frustration with what many operators see as lenient prosecutions and the tendency of transit managers to find fault with employees who should instead be supported through the ordeal.

Stations Vice President Maurice Jenkins got a round of applause when he said: “The people who are being attacked are the face of the Authority. People are upset because service has been cut and there’s no one to address except the person in the uniform.”

 The MTA’s President of Buses, Darryl Irick, said the MTA is open to creative ideas about how to stem assaults, and many were offered, including offering rewards to witnesses who come forward in assault cases, creating a public campaign to humanize bus operators and highlight the problem, and inviting members of the public to text a special NYPD exchange to warn of assaults in progress or observed.

ATU Local 726 President Danny Cassella reported on a very positive new relationship on Staten Island between his union and the police, in which NYPD officers are now stopping buses to ask the operator if everything is OK, riding more buses, and even conducting sting operations to arrest fare beaters. That’s also being done in the Bronx, according to Anthony Schepis of DA’s Johnson’s office, where a new ten-code has been introduced for rookie officers to board buses and ride to enhance safety.