MTA Plans to Hire 500 New Police Officers Questionable

Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
Before MTA Board New York City Transit Committee
Re: 500 New Police Officers and MTA 2020-2024 Capital Plan
September 23, 2019
Good morning. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable state government, including for state authorities like the MTA. I am here to raise concerns about two issues:

1. We strongly question the need for the MTA to hire 500 new police officers, given the 2,500 NYPD officers assigned to patrol subway and buses and 783 MTA officers patrolling commuter rail, bridges and tunnels. We ask that the MTA provide detailed budget information to ensure that the full long-term costs of this major expense are known to the board, elected officials and public before a board vote on the 2020 operating budget.

2. We are still digging into the full, 200+ page $55B MTA 2020-2024 capital plan, which was released less than a week before the Board’s vote on Wednesday and without a 20-year needs assessment. However, we can already see that the MTA lacks the capacity to spend the nearly $55B for the 2020-2024 plan in five years, and probably won’t finish after ten years. The 2020-2024 plan does not include start and completion targets, and given the tens of billions of overlapping funding from previous plans it is hard to know what projects will be built first. We will speak to this issue and the need for an implementation plan further at the Wednesday Board meeting.

Regarding police officers, the MTA already has a large police presence: it is served by more than 3,300 officers from the NYPD and MTA. The proposal to hire 500 new officers comes as the MTA is proposing cuts to bus service, and has cut train cleaning jobs, leading directly to trains being pulled out of service and subway delays. The July 2019 Financial Plan, the MTA’s latest budget document, does not account for these new hires.

The Citizens Budget Commission has estimated that hiring 500 additional MTA officers will cost $41 million in the first year, growing to $96 million by the tenth year, and increase the MTA’s already worrisome operating deficit. The MTA needs to provide a budget to the public and members of the MTA Board – who have not yet approved this hiring – as soon as possible.

The MTA has said that the 500 new officers would be “largely funded” by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. However, this does not seem possible given prior announcements. The MTA and Manhattan DA’s July announcement said that there would be $40 million over four years from settlement funds to support the MTA’s anti-fare evasion actions. This is only $10 million a year. Further, the release said DA funding will “support enhanced technology in the stations, infrastructure hardening, and aid in the research of new station designs for track access.” This one-shot funding source will fund a fraction of the cost of the 500 new officers.

The MTA already has about 3,300 police officers patrolling its system. This is a high number compared to peer cities like greater London. Before spending scarce transit operating dollars almost doubling the size of the MTA police force, the MTA should work with the NYPD to establish clear goals and expectations and improve the effectiveness of existing policing. Hiring 500 new MTA cops is a very large operating expense during a time when the MTA is cutting basic bus service. This should be carefully and publicly assessed.

Thank you for your consideration.