A push to hold police accountable, reduce incarceration and expand alternatives to mandatory minimum sentences after George Floyd’s murder is giving way to calls for law and order as rising violence in cities and transit systems unsettles even staunch liberal strongholds. The Chicago Transit Authority hired nearly 100 private security guards equipped with 50 canines to help monitor turnstiles. New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched a “Subway Safety” plan that includes more police “addressing the fare evasion and disorder that contributes to an unsafe environment.” In the Washington, D.C., region, the clearest sign of the pendulum swinging back is a renewed focus on fare evasion. Transit police restarted enforcement that had been largely dormant for years after accusations that police escalated minor situations into violent confrontations and disproportionately policed stations in Black neighborhoods, the Washington Post reports. In Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, leaders are moving toward making fare evasion a crime after the transit system extended its rail footprint to the county seven months ago. In D.C., which drew national attention when city leaders decriminalized fare evasion five years ago, a council member has proposed helping transit police officers enforce the offense, which has proliferated during the pandemic.
The shift is playing out in transit systems across the U.S. amid a pandemic-era rise in violence and social disorder that is making its way onto rail and bus systems. The moves have concerned D.C. civil rights activists who protested transit police tactics for years, accusing the department of concentrating efforts at stations in largely Black communities. They say police are regaining power to make unnecessary stops that escalate into arrests, use of force, injuries and long-lasting legal consequences for riders that outweigh an unpaid fare. “A big police presence around a very minor offense of not paying at the fare gate is just caustic to communities of color in the way that it’s been enforced,” said Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The group has called for better fare gate designs to deter fare evasion. Aggravated assaults are up 26 percent compared with last year. Larceny is up 90 percent, while pickpocketing and purse-snatching is up 84 percent. Robberies are up 127 percent, and destruction/vandalism is up 110 percent. Incidents involving weapons violations, indecent exposure, fondling and trespassing have also risen. Rail ridership has also been on the rise. Five people have been killed on Metro property this year, including two teenagers in separate incidents in May, as well as a Metro worker who tried to intervene during a shooting rampage in February. No homicides had occurred in the transit system at the same time last year.