In an effort to both increase safety and bring more riders back to the nation’s largest subway system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will be installing security cameras in every New York City subway train car and at over 100 subway stations, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Sept. 22. The move comes in the aftermath of violence in the city’s subways and has raised concerns from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“My number one priority as governor is keeping New Yorkers safe. I am proud that we will be installing cameras on all subway cars—expanding our security capabilities, deterring crime, and providing our law enforcement with support,” said Hochul. “As we continue welcoming riders back to the transit system, we will continue doing everything in our power to keep riders safe.”
History of Violence
NBC News reports that the security camera project comes after highly publicized crimes on the New York City subway system including the rape of a tourist on a subway platform, a mass shooting on a subway car in Brooklyn that wounded 10 passengers, and the fatal shooting of a Goldman Sachs employee.
The $5.5 million project with 16,510 new security cameras would allow the system’s 6,455 subway cars to be equipped with security cameras. Specifically, it will include the purchase and installation of two cameras on 6,355 cars, which is a total of 12,710 cameras. An existing camera pilot program consisted of 200 security cameras in 100 subway cars.
When the installation begins, 200 train cars per month will have cameras installed until the entire subway fleet is camera-equipped, expected to happen in 2025.
Additionally, the project will install approximately 3,800 security cameras in 130 subway stations. Currently, NYC Transit’s existing security network has 10,000 cameras across all 472 city subway stations.
Funding for the purchase of 5,400 security cameras in subway cars along with all 3,800 cameras in subway stations comes from a $2 million award through the Urban Area Security Initiative federal grant program, which is under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Preparedness Grants.
A $3.5 million MTA Subway Action Plan covered the purchase of the remaining 7,310 cameras on subway cars.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about this program.
In a statement, Daniel Schwarz, the union’s privacy and technology strategist, said, “Governor Hochul’s announcement is even more worrying given that the MTA has been completely secretive and has not disclosed any information, policies, or audits about its camera and software systems: the scope of information that is collected and analyzed, how long it is retained for, how law enforcement uses the information, who the information is shared with, and whether any of the deployed technologies show discriminatory impact or threaten people’s fundamental rights.”
Schwarz explained that the city already has tens of thousands of surveillance cameras and questioned how this will make the city safer.
During the governor’s announcement, Hochul reportedly said, “You think Big Brother’s watching you on the subways? You’re absolutely right. That is our intent—to get the message out that we’re going to be having surveillance of activities on the subway trains and that is going to give people great peace of mind.”
She added, “If you’re concerned about this, the best answer is don’t commit any crimes on the subway.”
MTA’s History of Surveillance Cameras
The idea of having a lot of cameras on mass transportation systems in the region is not something new. All Metro-North trains have cameras, and 90% of Long Island rail road trains have them. Two-thousand cameras were installed in 2021.
Several city, MTA, public safety, and elected officials remarked that the new cameras will make the city safer by preventing crime as well as solving crime when it does happen.
“It’s been proven time and time again that cameras in the transit system help fight crime throughout the whole city, not just on the subway. Expanding the camera network will serve to deter those who are intent on committing a crime from entering the transit system,” said New York City Transit President Richard Davey.
“As I’ve said many times before, those who commit crimes in the transit system will be identified and brought to justice. Riders should know we’ve got their back for their entire journey, and this significant upgrade—made possible by new dollars from Governor Hochul—is a great step toward reinforcing New Yorkers’ confidence in mass transit safety,” said MTA Chair and CEO Jannno Lieber.
“The NYPD already uses existing MTA cameras, with great success, to solve crimes,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “Now, with ridership increasing and overall serious crime in the transit system back below pre-pandemic levels—a consequence of the NYPD’s increased, concentrated deployment in stations and on trains—the installation of additional MTA cameras covering the entire fleet of subway cars will further our investigatory capabilities and enhance our ability to provide effective, efficient public safety both below and above ground.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, “Public safety is my top priority, and this new security initiative will further work to ensure that all New Yorkers can get to where they need to go safely.”