Criminal Justice

Hochul leaves bail behind and continues tough-on-crime approach with subway deployment

The governor said she would send National Guard troops and state police to check bags in the New York City subway system.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is bolstering the NYPD’s ranks in the subways with National Guard troops and state police.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is bolstering the NYPD’s ranks in the subways with National Guard troops and state police. Susan Watts/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul has said she doesn’t plan to revisit the state’s bail laws after holding up the budget last year to secure additional rollbacks, but that hasn’t stopped her from making other tough-on-crime proposals this year. The latest came on Wednesday, when Hochul announced that she would deploy 750 National Guard troops and 250 members of the New York State Police and the MTA Police Department into New York City’s subway system to conduct bag checks.

Hochul’s bag check and law enforcement deployment announcement was the first prong of a five-part plan to tackle subway crime that included a legislative proposal to allow judges to ban people convicted of assaulting passengers from public transit for three years. “You’ll start seeing them at tables, making sure that weapons will not be brought in,” Hochul said. Hochul’s plan will complement New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ surge of police officers into the subways. After crime in the subways spiked in January, Adams sent 1,000 more NYPD officers to patrol the system in February and there was a 17% decrease in crime. She wouldn’t say how long the extra law enforcement presence will remain in the subways, and said that if police stop a commuter, the bag check would be mandatory if that person wanted to get into the station.

At the same press conference, Hochul praised the changes to the state’s bail reform laws from last year that gave judges more discretion to set bail in eligible cases. “I’m anticipating that we’ll see a change in results when you look one year from now,” Hochul said, saying that training is still ongoing to ensure all judges know the law now gives them greater leeway to set bail. “All these new laws have only been in place less than a year.”

Although she hasn’t proposed any further changes to the bail law, Hochul has been pushing for nonbail-related crime proposals that would increase criminal penalties. As part of her budget proposal, she pitched elevating the assault of a retail worker to a Class D felony, as well as establishing new penalties for fostering the sale of stolen goods. Hochul also proposed vastly expanding the list of crimes that could be tried as hate crime, a distinction that could bring higher punitive outcomes for otherwise low-level offenses like graffiti. 

The governor has been active in promoting her tough-on-crime agenda alongside local district attorneys. Last month, she touted her retail theft plan, which includes additional funding and law enforcement coordination, with Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz. “We’re not talking about, you know, a kid who makes a mistake one time. We are not criminalizing poverty here,” Hochul said at the time. “We really are focused on what has become a sophisticated organized retail operation, the smash and grab efforts.” And on Monday, she discussed progress in tackling upstate crime with the state police and reiterated that “our next challenge is retail theft.”

Following her attendance at the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York’s Winter Conference last month, Hochul criticized the fact that a judge hadn’t set bail for several migrants accused of assaulting police officers. “All I know is that assault on a police officer means that you should be sitting in jail,” she said at the time. At least one of the men arrested and released without bail recently had the case against him dismissed after investigators determined he was not present at the time of the assault.

Hochul’s latest proposals for the subways were met with immediate backlash from criminal justice and civil rights advocates who saw the return of bag checks as a step backward toward the city’s previous stop-and-frisk policies. “Let’s be clear about who the National Guard’s ‘random checks’ will be focused on under Governor Hochul’s orders: low-income, marginalized New Yorkers who have been racially profiled for decades,” said Milton Perez, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Homelessness Union.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman called the proposal “another unfortunate example of policymaking through overreaction and overreach.” Hochul said stop and frisk was “an absolutely different dynamic than random spot checks” and that National Guard troops are meant to serve as a “deterrent” for those who may want to bring weapons onto public transit.