Exclusive: Police Commissioner and Chief of Transit ride Midtown train amidst subway crime scare

NYPD top cop Keechant Sewell and Chief of Transit Jason Wilcox personally rode a Midtown subway train and toured several stations Tuesday evening as public concern over transit safety rises.

The NYPD brass was observed swiping at the turnstile inside the 51st Street and Lexington Avenue station just before 8 p.m. on Oct. 11. amNewYork Metro was the only newspaper to join the pair as they performed a walkthrough of the station to observe the current state of the system.

With the department’s most recognizable face directly putting boots on the ground, police endeavored to send a clear message that they are aware of the angst some straphangers harbor when riding through the underground and endeavor to ease that fear.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell enters the subway on 51st and Lexington Avenue. Photo by Dean Moses

“People are telling us they want to see more visibility with the officers. They want more engagement with the officers, and we agree with that, we understand that. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we put officers where they need to be, people have to be safe in the subway system. They have to feel safe. We can tell people that we want to improve the conditions, but we have to make sure that we’re here to provide that deterrent for any criminal activity,” Commissioner Sewell told amNewYork Metro.

Commissioner Sewell and Chief Wilcox toured the very station where on Saturday, Oct. 8 six unidentified suspects brutally beat a 17-year-old teen who was waiting for a northbound 6 train, raining down a flurry of kicks and punches. The altercation ended when one of the attackers stabbed the teen several times, leaving him wounded. Police sources said they believe the attack to be premeditated.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and Chief of Transit Jason Wilcox tour the train station. Photo by Dean Moses

Sewell and Wilcox boarded a downtown 6 train and spoke with several commuters during the ride. Passengers indicated to the pair that crime within the system weighs heavy on their minds and would like to see even more action taken. While several high-profile crimes have occurred inside stations and abroad trains, statistics released by the NYPD state that only “six major crimes” take place each day amidst an average of 3 million riders. Still, both Commissioner Sewell and Chief Wilcox understand that perception surpasses data. 

“I can give numbers all we like; we have to talk about people. We have to talk about them being comfortable riding the subway,” Commissioner Sewell said. “The public is the picture for us. We have to make sure that we are responsive to their needs and that we are here when they need us. We have more to do, and we are here to do it.”

The Police Commissioner speaks with riders. Photo by Dean Moses

The NYPD has inundated the system with about a thousand more cops, focusing on 15 stations that the department deems most in need of the extra eyes in hopes of easing the public’s fears. Stepping off at Grand Central Station, Sewell greeted an on-duty officer, telling the cop that people need to see patrolmen and women in order to ease their minds.

amNewYork Metro also asked Chief Wilcox regarding one of the most major criticisms when it comes to officers in the subway–placement. Many New Yorkers say they would rather see the NYPD in trains and on platforms rather than beside turnstiles attempting to nab fare beaters.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell speaks with a patrolman. Photo by Dean Moses

“When I came to this position in January, I stressed three words to all my transit cops: uniform train patrol. That’s been the foundation of everything we’ve been trying to do this year. Uniform train patrol, we want people to see us on the train as much as we can. It’s a vast system. You’re talking thousands of trains. But we’re trying to maximize efficiency, through proactivity, to be out there and visible as much as we can,” Chief Wilcox told amNewYork Metro. “What you just said is absolutely core to what we’re trying to accomplish here, and we’re only getting started.”