Rash of Subway Attacks Raises Worries With 24-Hour Service Set to Return

In the span of 12 minutes early Friday, the police said, two men attacked commuters at three Manhattan subway stations, increasing concerns about public safety in New York City’s transit system even as 24-hour subway service is set to resume on Monday.

The attackers, striking together at stations on the Lexington Avenue line starting at around 4:30 a.m., slashed three riders, two in the face and one in the back of the head, the police said. A fourth person was punched, the police said.

The three slashing victims, all men in their 40s, were hospitalized and in stable condition, according to the police, who said the suspects were in their 20s. One slashed at the three men as the other urged him on, the police said.

The attacks came as concern about crime in New York rises. Much of that concern has focused on the subway, which is about to begin nonstop service for the first time since it was curtailed last May for the first time in the system’s history because of the pandemic.

Despite the flurry of reported attacks, the overall trend in subway violence is less clear. Data suggests that crime per rider may be lower so far this year than in 2020, when ridership plunged amid a citywide lockdown, but up from 2019.

Now, even as the system gears up for a full return, at least a dozen attacks and other violent episodes have taken place on train cars or at stations this month alone.

In February, after a homeless man was accused of stabbing four people in the subway, two of them fatally, the Police Department deployed 500 officers to the subway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that operates the system, has repeatedly called for such reinforcements.

At a mayoral debate on Thursday, the eight leading Democratic candidates in the race all expressed concern about safety in the subway, but they split over whether they would heed calls for even more officers to be deployed in the system.

Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire said they would expand the police presence underground. Scott Stringer, Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley said they would not.

“A big part of our safety problem in the subways is a mental health and homelessness problem,” Ms. Wiley said.

Ms. Garcia did not dispute that, but argued that additional officers were needed.

“We do need to respond when the M.T.A. says we need more cops in the subway,” she said. “That does not mean we’re not sending mental health professionals into the subway as well.”

Sarah Feinberg, the authority’s interim president, has consistently raised concerns about the system becoming a de facto shelter for homeless people. On Friday, she lashed out at Mayor Bill de Blasio over the attacks, describing him as negligent on the issue.

“The mayor is risking New York’s recovery every time he lets these incidents go by without meaningful action,” Ms. Feinberg said in a statement.

In her statement, Ms. Feinberg also gave her approval to the candidates who said at the debate that they would assign more officers to the subway — an unusual move for a senior authority official.

Ms. Feinberg was appointed to the authority’s board by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who has frequently clashed with Mr. de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, on policies related to the transit system and to the pandemic more broadly.

Last week, Mr. Cuomo compared the current condition of the subway to what it was like in the 1970s, and he blamed city officials for failing to address the problem.

A spokesman for Mr. De Blasio, Bill Neidhardt, responded to Ms. Feinberg, saying that the city had diverted officers from desk duty to subway platforms and trains.

“We’re going to keep putting massive resources into this fight to keep our subways safe,” Mr. Neidhardt said in a statement. “Meanwhile, the M.T.A. sends out statements that point fingers and talk about mayoral politics.”

Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, a public transit advocacy group, said in a statement that the subway remained overwhelmingly safe, and he urged Mr. Cuomo not to spread fear about the state of the system.

“The reality is that the governor’s fear-mongering may be scaring people away from public transit and making riders who need to travel less safe,” Mr. Pearlstein said in the statement.

The victims of the dozen subway attacks this month include: a 60-year-old woman stabbed in the back; two men slashed in the face on separate days; a woman hit in the face with a skateboard; a man visiting from Ecuador attacked with a screwdriver; a transit worker punched in the face, and a subway conductor chased off a train by a razor-wielding man.

Several of those episodes resulted in service being shut down, as did other incidents that did not involve attacks on people.

On May 5, a man shouting incoherently about Covid-19 vaccines broke into an operator’s compartment on a train car and holed up there for 90 minutes, and hours later another man pulled the emergency brakes on a train, smashed the windows and fled.

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