March 10, 2024
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul is a Guest on Open Line on Wbls 107.5 Fm With Fatiyn Muhammad and Jennifer Jones Austin to Discuss Five-point Plan to Protect New Yorkers on the Subway

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul is a Guest on Open Line on Wbls 107.5 Fm With Fatiyn Muhammad and Jennifer Jones Austin to Discuss Five-point Plan to Protect New Yorkers on the Subway

Governor Hochul: “This is about protecting people and also giving that peace of mind that every rider on our subway system deserves to have.”

Hochul: “A huge part of this is dealing people who have severe mental health problems… I've added $20 million to reinforce a plan we have where we go in and address this problem with health care professionals, but also if necessary the police have to be involved if there's someone who could do harm to themselves or others and get them into a safe place. And that's why I've worked so hard over the last year to reopen mental health beds and hospitals.

Earlier today, Governor Hochul was a guest on Open Line on WBLS 107.5 FM with Fatiyn Muhammad and Jennifer Jones Austin to discuss her five-point plan to utilize state resources to protect New Yorkers on the subways. This includes surging State personnel to assist NYPD bag checks, a new program bill that would permit transit bans for individuals that assault other passengers, adding new cameras to protect conductor cabins, increasing coordination between District Attorneys and law enforcement, and increasing the number of Subway Co-Response Outreach (SCOUT) teams throughout the system – which will operate in addition to the existing Safe Options Support (SOS) teams.

AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.

A rush transcript is available below:

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: We have two very special guests. First, I would like to introduce New York Governor Kathy Hochul. She is the 57th and the first female Governor of New York State. Good morning, Governor Hochul.

Governor Hochul: Good morning. Good morning. Thanks for having me on to discuss keeping New Yorkers safe – one of my top priorities.

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: I appreciate that you joining us this morning. Also joining us is Janno Lieber. He is the CEO of the Mass Transit Authority. As I stated, that's the MTA. Good morning, Mr. Lieber. Glad to have you this morning.

Janno Lieber, MTA Chair and CEO: Good morning. Great to be with you this morning.

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: All right. Jennifer is going to kick off the first couple of questions to you both.

Jennifer Jones Austin, WBLS 107.5 FM: Good morning. Good morning, Governor Hochul and Chair Lieber. Really, really appreciate you two being with us. Governor Hochul, you know, you well know that New York City has had and continues to have a complicated relationship with law enforcement, especially when we think about communities with high concentrations of people of color, where it's been well documented that, you know, we've been over surveilled. So we would know how this would, you know, be bringing down 1,000 law enforcement officers, how that would hit, how it would be received, how would we proceed? So, help us appreciate – why, even appreciating that you determined that this was a necessary move at this time.

Governor Hochul: Right and Jennifer, thank you for the opportunity to answer that question and let me, as an aside, thank you for being my appointee to the Reparations Commission. I'm looking forward to the body of work you're going to be intensely involved with to right the wrongs of the past and that's very important to me as someone who signed that into law not that long ago. Let's talk about–

Jennifer Jones Austin, WBLS 107.5 FM: I'm so deeply honored. I'm so deeply honored. Thank you.

Governor Hochul: You're going to do a great job. So, thank you, Jennifer. Thank you very much. And I understand the concerns you're raising and what I want to do is make sure that the people who live in the black and brown communities who disproportionately use the subway – because the people who use the subway don't have their own vehicles often times and they're getting to their jobs, whether it's a low wage job or a high wage job, and they're using it more to get their children to school, they're using it to – seniors use it to get to their doctor's appointments. It is really the lifeline of our whole region. And I want to make sure that people have a strong sense of safety because otherwise they will not go on.

We saw during the pandemic, the dramatic drop in people using it and even afterward, there was still a fear factor, and that fear factor has come back. These high profile stories, they send a chill down people's spine when they're deciding whether to take the subway. That has to end.

I can tell you all the statistics in the world because of the Mayor doing a great job with his NYPD. They have driven down the numbers that were high in January down to lower numbers now. We're going to continue that trend, working very hard together, but we had a meeting after some high profile incidences, especially the slashing of the throat of the conductor. It was on top of some murders and other incidences you raised. We sat down together. I brought in the Mayor and his team. We all talked. We had a conversation and I offered reinforcements. I said, “Can we help you now change the fear that people have so they feel much safer going onto our subways?” And so, we talked about this. I offered assistance. The Mayor has asked for funding now and I can put that into a conversation related to the Budget.

But immediately, I have already people – National Guard who are already protecting our ports and our airports deployed Downstate anyhow. They're already there. We're just shifting them into places where they can free up NYPD to be more present in the station. It’s a vast, vast system. And when the NYPD can be there, you know, just keeping an eye on things. They're just really there to be a deterrent. So, people who maybe want to do something harmful to others would know that there's people around. They're not doing stop and search. They're not doing that whatsoever. And so, I want to just make sure that people know the intent of this is to keep people safe and change the psychology of fear around the subways and get back to some sense of normalcy, which is so important to me that people feel safe and secure. And so, I was on a show with Reverend Al who I have enormous respect for. We agree – no over policing, not over doing this, no stop and search, but this is about protecting people and also giving that peace of mind that every rider on our subway system deserves to have.

Jennifer Jones Austin, WBLS 107.5 FM: Very, very much appreciate that. So, Chair Lieber, what does this look like? Is this – and how, how we fix this? How are we funding this? This isn't going to affect our fares, is it?

Janno Lieber, MTA Chair and CEO: No, you know, one of the things that I've been fortunate since I came into the job of Chair and CEO of the MTA is we've got a Governor who has been 100 percent strong for transit from day one of her administration, and she's actually fixed, you know, the budget so that we can provide even more service on the subways, on the buses were running 40 percent more railroad service and we actually cut the prices on the railroad so that people who live near railroad station can get a faster commute if they live in Southeast Queens or the Bronx.

But the bigger issue here is access to transit, as the Governor said, is a matter of equity, and that's a core principle, and we don't want anybody, especially folks in the neighborhoods where people really depend on transit, and that, as we all know, includes a lot of black and brown communities, to be deterred from taking advantage of the only transportation is available to get the jobs and education for so many of them by a concern about safety. So, what the Governor has done this week has added to the safety profile.

NYPD has done a great job. They've pushed back against this temporary surge that we saw in January, but the Governor's support issues reinforcement, sending a message to the bad guys, this is not the place to do the wrong thing. And it's not only the National Guard and State police that she provided. She's been – the Governor has been a huge supporter of us, you know, adding cameras to the system and that's enabled us to catch folks who do the wrong thing pretty quickly. And in this case, we need to protect our MTA workers who have been subject to some assaults. So now we're adding not just cameras inside the subway cars, and inside the stations, but actually in and around the conductor's booths. And the other thing that I just want to emphasize is it's not just about law enforcement. Although I have to add, you know, when we survey riders, the overwhelming, overwhelming majority from all communities say they want to see more uniformed personnel. That's what makes them feel safe.

But the Governor's other major action that we need to emphasize is to really continue attacking this problem of severely mentally ill folks who are in the public space and need to get help for themselves, but also so folks who are riding along with them, don't feel uncomfortable and threatened because they're struggling with severe mental illness issues. So, there's a huge new presence of professionals – mental health professionals, who are going to help and persuade those people to get indoors. And you know what, we have beds for them – thanks to Governor Hochul's work. In the last six or nine months, she's pushed the hospitals to add mental health beds for people who really need to be indoors and I think that that's going to really help our riders feel safer – so not just uniform personnel, but also care as well as cameras. Cops, cameras and care – that's been the Governor's motto, and I think it's a great development.

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: I appreciate that, Mr. Lieber. I really do appreciate that response and yours, Governor Hochul.

Governor Hochul back in October 2022, you along with New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced expanding initiatives to keep New York City subway safe and address transit crime and at that time we looked at increasing police presence, dedicating units at psychiatric centers and we saw crime coming down. We saw the spike come up here, you know, in the beginning of the year, we did see the spike within the past. Like I said, the past couple of weeks, we saw more incidents. We had incidents. We had an incident yesterday. We had an incident yesterday where a boyfriend pushed his girlfriend in the train, and she lost – you know severed her feet. But my question is, and I have a twofold question for you, Governor Hochul. Is – how – it seems like that program was successful – how did we get to the point of putting National Guards in and what will be the protocol in stopping and searching individual bags?

Governor Hochul: Right. As I said, The National Guard is only there to supplement the work of the NYPD, which is the entity primarily charged with protecting the subway. We also have MTA Police. We have State Police. They have been around, but I just wanted to show more of a focus in our main transit hubs to free up the NYPD to go into stations. So, it is more of a just a physical presence where you can see – if you're feeling anxious and you feel safer when you see someone that could protect you if you need help. If you need help, someone is there. And the other program we had would require going to the Budget, which we don't have the resources right now. I could deploy these individuals immediately. And why wait until the Budget process is over months from now? I needed to take immediate action. And then leaders have to do that sometimes. That's the situation. We had an unusual spike of crimes, high profile crimes, frightening crimes. Everyone's thinking that could have been me. And they may be deterred from going on the trains and using the subway, and that's exactly the opposite of what we want to have happen. We want people to feel safe and be safe.

So, but it's also, as Janno mentioned, a huge part of this is dealing people who have severe mental health problems. That is also a trigger for anxiety when you're in the train and someone is having a psychotic episode or is acting erratically. And so, what we wanted to do, and we've been very successful at this so far, is why I've added even more money to this program in our Budget, is $20 million to reinforce a plan we have where we go in and address this problem with health care professionals, but also if necessary. The police have to be involved if there's someone who could do harm to themselves or others and get them into a safe place. And that's why I've worked so hard over the last year to reopen mental health beds and hospitals that were literally, there was no place for people to go. So, they stayed on the subways. That's inhumane for them.

And sometimes it can be frightening for our passengers, so the answer is to get them out of the subways, get them into a safe, healing environment, so they can have a full, productive life with the mental health services they need. That's a huge part of what we're trying to do here, and I'm really going to continue leaning into our mental health initiatives, which I know, ultimately, we can take care of this, get more people into housing. I think that'll also help drive down the anxiety that people have on the train.

So, this is temporary. While there's a physical presence, they will not be allowed to stop and search people. That is not what the National Guard does. And again, this is redeploying them from other places where they have been. They've been protecting some of our major ports and our airports. We're just using the resources we have to calm things down for now. And that's what I was attempting to do. And I'm very sensitive to the concerns about over policing.

As I mentioned, Reverend Al and I talked about this. And I support civil liberties. I support the opportunity for people to go about their lives without any harassment. We don't ever want to go back to that over policing era. We never will under my watch. But what we have to do is at least have that presence, so people say, “You know what? I'm going to be safe on this train. I'm going to go on. I'm going to let my teenager take the train to school. I'm going to push my stroller with the baby on it. I'm going to be okay.” Because we have to calm things down right now and get back to some sense of normal.

And I think this is just an element to do that, but it's a five-point plan also to keep people who have committed a violent assault against another passenger or a conductor, they shouldn't be riding the train. So, people who have already done that should not be on our trains. But also, we're working closely with our district attorneys and law enforcement meeting every week to talk about, you know, if someone is committing crimes on the subway, make sure they don't become a repeat offender.

The judges need to know the whole story that the MTA has of the history of individuals. They know who their repeat offenders are. So, it is a five-point plan. It also includes more cameras because the cameras are literally solving crimes – people that would have gotten away with it. And I want anybody who wants to be committing a crime on our subways to know we have your picture. You'll be prosecuted. Don't do it. Leave our riders alone. And again, primarily from Black and Brown communities, people feel a strong sense of vulnerability, and I want them to feel safe.

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: I wanted to say this because our time is up with you, Governor Hochul and Janno Lieber, but real quick, as you mentioned about mental health beds, we also have a homeless crisis here, and we had that before the migrant issue and has been strained by the migrants and everybody that's on the subways that maybe homeless doesn't suffer from mental health illness. Do we have more shelter space? More resources coming out for the homeless coming from the State funding coming into the city to help the homeless situation here as we deal with the migrant situation as well?

Governor Hochul: Yes, and part of it is putting up shelters for the migrants. And we have. The State has supported the city between last year initially $4.3 billion to give them a safe place to stay until they can get on their feet, which is what we have to do. We have no choice right now. They have come here. We do not want people on the streets. It's not good for our city. It's not good for our residents, not good for the migrants. So, we have been spending an enormous amount of money to make sure that we can take care of the vast majority of them.

And while some may have left the shelters and around the streets, the opportunities for us to get them jobs are there. We're trying to get them processed. They can get work authorization after a certain amount of time. And ultimately, the main objective is to get them into jobs, so they're not on the subway trains having to pedal for people to give them contributions or to sell candy. There's a lot of that with young kids selling candy on the subways. We're just trying to calm things down and get them into places where they can be safe. And so, that's our number one priority here, is the safety and security of our passengers.

Fatiyn Muhammad, WBLS 107.5 FM: Sounds good. New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, and Janno Lieber, he is the CEO of the MTA. We want to thank you for joining us. We will definitely invite you back as this program is starting now, and we want to see how it moves forward in the next two to three months. We want to again thank you both for joining us this morning. Thank you.  

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