INTERVIEW: It Starts With Jumping Turnstiles

By Reuvain Borchardt

MTA police check a passenger’s bag in Penn Station. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Retired New York Police Department Chief Joseph Fox discusses Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to have 750 members of the National Guard, along with 250 state troopers and MTA police officers, conduct bag checks in the New York City subway system.

Fox served in the NYPD from 1981 to 2018, rising to the rank of three-star chief. He spent the last seven years of his career as chief of transit. 

Since retiring from the NYPD in 2018, he has served on the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and he serves on a number of boards and travels the country as an executive coach, life coach, leadership trainer and public speaker.

When we see more homeless in the subways in recent years, what’s the variable, what has changed? 

Let’s look back to 1994, when Commissioner [William] Bratton became commissioner — there was a historic turnaround in subways. What was the variable — what was the change? In 1994, he started paying a lot of attention to turnstile jumping, and that corresponded with a significant increase in the recovery of guns. In 2020 and 2021, elected district attorneys started walking away from enforcing fare evasion. Cops still make the stops, but if they’re even brought to the NYPD Transit District station, they’re out before the cop finishes his or her own paperwork. 

So that’s the variable here that is the main factor: not truly enforcing turnstile-jumping. 

That has become, for many well-meaning but highly misinformed individuals and activists and some elected officials, a rallying cry for ensuring that people who are poor are not put through the criminal justice system. It’s a false narrative that has gained a lot of traction; it’s attractive, because everyone really wants to do good in the world. 

So it’s easy to portray it as, “A 17-year-old-boy who didn’t have money to get to school jumped the turnstile, and the cops took him to jail for three days.” That’s a false narrative that I was correcting and pushing against for all of my years as chief of transit.

Chief Joseph Fox

You can go back 20 years and see that an average of 75% of the people stopped for turnstile-jumping walk away in less than 10 minutes with what’s called a Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) summons. Which, by the way, if somebody throws it away and says, “I’m never going to respond to this,” there’s no warrant issued and it doesn’t give you a record. So much for the “criminalization of poverty.” 

The 25% of the people who went to either the Transit District or Central Booking were either transit recidivists, wanted on warrants for other crimes, or had weapons or contraband. That was true for the last 20 years, until they stopped charging turnstile-jumping a few years ago.

And I’ve said that at press briefings, and in one-on-ones with people who were pushing this decriminalization of turnstile-jumping. But something about it was right in alignment with this far-left movement of our country and our city to decriminalize behavior that’s dangerous to the community. 

Turnstile-jumping is costing the MTA millions of dollars. What do they do in response to this? Instead of taking on the district attorneys and elected officials and holding them accountable for this, the MTA is spending millions on different types of turnstiles to make it harder for people to jump. 

It’s like telling your 12-year-old child not to drink all the chocolate milk in the refrigerator, and when he doesn’t comply, you buy a different refrigerator with a lock and put it in the basement. It doesn’t make sense: you have to insist on proper behavior in a society. 

Yes, that’s right. 

The governor hasn’t once called out a district attorney for not prosecuting someone who committed the crime of theft of service in jumping a turnstile. And that is a major contributing factor to crime and lawlessness in the subways. Not once has she done that. 

So she does this publicity stunt. First she says she’ll put National Guards. Then she says they’re not going to have long guns.

This transit system will take any help we can get. I love our soldiers, I think they’re a great presence. I’ll never forget the sight of them in our city on the night of September 11, 2001. I’ve never seen the presence of a soldier that I thought was inappropriate. So I’ll take it. I’ll agree with it. 

But do the basics; this is all window dressing. Call the district attorneys out to prosecute these crimes. The cops want it. The riders want it, the MTA wants it. But the MTA is a political agency. So they’re not going to say it publicly. 

And by the way, the same goes for crime in the streets. If I go to a pharmacy and want to buy some Tylenol, I have to stand there and wait for somebody to be available to come unlock it, because otherwise it gets stolen. And that’s because prosecutors have decided, “Well, that’s just like turnstile jumping; it’s criminalizing poverty.” It’s not “criminalizing poverty.” But what they’re doing is legalizing criminal behavior. 

And in spite of the tools that have been taken away from them, these transit police officers continue to go out there and do the best they can to address all of these conditions. But there still isn’t the deterrent there once was for someone to jump a turnstile — because they know that the worst-case scenario is they get stopped and get a summons, and even if they’re a transit recidivist or wanted on warrants, it may not even come up because they’re not going to be processed.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton (C) and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (L), who implemented a broken-windows policing strategy, shown here at a news conference in City Hall in 1996. Chief of Department Louis Anemone is at right. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

With politicians, you can always look and find some type of election around the corner. They run for office every day. The election for a second term begins right after inauguration for the first term. Any politician will tell you that — and I say that with respect: that’s their business. Just like a business owner has to make a profit every day, elected officials are running for office every day. 

The subway system is like parks: It’s a place where there’s a high expectation of safety, and people feel very vulnerable when that safety doesn’t happen. A park is someplace where you’re supposed to be able to sit and have a picnic and let your kids roam free while you look up at the sun. Subways are a place you’re supposed to pay the fare, and go from one place to the other, to your work, job, or school. It’s not a place you’re supposed to be victimized. So when crimes happen in these places, they are highly publicized. And people’s fear level is very high. 

I commend Chief John Chell for speaking the truth and speaking it bravely. And I really couldn’t put it any better than he does. And he has said that he welcomes the presence of the soldiers; it does not hurt. But our dividend would be far greater if we prosecuted the crimes that people get arrested for and commit, in the subways and the streets.

Yes, this is definitely missing the more important thing.


What a great point. They carry in their pocket; they don’t carry it in bags. 

I was an anti-crime cop, a plainclothes sergeant. With all modesty, I was pretty active in my day. I’ve been leading and supervising and managing very active people for almost four decades. The overwhelming majority of arrests for weapons are found on people. 

Members of the Armed Forces including the National Guard wait in the lobby of the New York City Mass Transit Authority Rail Control Center before the start of a news conference with Gov. Hochul, March 6, at which Hochul announced she is is deploying the National Guard to the subway system to help police search passengers’ bags for weapons. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The way they’re done by the Transit Bureau, it’s methodical and very effective. They’ll move randomly to different stations. So that deterrent part is good.

But remember, bag checks were instituted by Commissioner Kelly after September 11 — and it was primarily not for weapons but for explosive devices. You would typically leave dynamite in a bag.

What she’s doing now is not the best medicine. If the concern is weapons, they’re much less likely to find weapons in bags.

The NYPD is definitely dealing with shortages, but whether or not the NYPD is fully staffed, the theory behind this is that it provides more. And more is almost always better. Setting aside the bag check: the presence of soldiers in a station is definitely helpful. If I’m a pickpocket, I’m not going to pick a pocket in that station.

But again, it’s a small part of the problem. Prosecute the crimes.

When public safety works right, it’s like a three-legged stool: legislatures; prosecutors and judges; and policing. And what we had starting in ‘94, through the years of Commissioner Kelly, Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg, was all three of those legs working together. And that’s why the city boomed away. 

Now, there are times we have only one leg working: policing. As for the legislature, the City Council just passed legislation requiring officers to fill out paperwork even for a Level 1 stop. That’s going to drastically inhibit police officers and public safety. 

So the three legs are not in sync now. The NYPD is doing their job every single day; they’re going out there, and they always will. Because what motivates them is not elections or profit. It’s the innate desire they have to serve and make things better. 

Yes. Because what happens in the station sets the tone for what happens on the track and on the train.When people come in and out of the station and they see cops, it has an impact. So when they’re going on the train, they just saw cops, they just saw soldiers.

This interview originally appeared in Hamodia Prime magazine.

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