National Guard Can’t Carry Long Guns While Checking Bags in Subway

National Guard Can’t Carry Long Guns While Checking Bags in Subway

Shortly after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday that hundreds of National Guard soldiers would be deployed to patrol the New York City subway system and check riders’ bags, her office made an adjustment: Soldiers searching bags would not carry long guns.

The change was ordered by Ms. Hochul on Wednesday for implementation on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the governor. Ms. Hochul issued a directive that National Guard members would be prohibited from carrying long guns at bag-check stations, he said. Soldiers not working at the stations would presumably be allowed to carry them.

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the ban on long guns at bag-checking stations a “relief,” but said the Guard’s presence underground remained “an unnecessary overreaction based on fear, not facts.”

“Deploying military personnel to the subways will not make New Yorkers feel safe,” Ms. Lieberman said. “It will, unfortunately, create a perfect storm for tension, escalation and further criminalization of Black and brown New Yorkers.”

Early images of the National Guard’s deployment showed soldiers standing near turnstiles in the subterranean system, wearing camouflage and military gear and holding long guns.

Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, said the move to flood the system with reinforcements — 750 members of the New York National Guard, and an additional 250 personnel from the State Police and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — would help commuters and visitors feel safe.

Subway safety, a perpetual concern for New Yorkers, has been a challenging issue for public officials, who can be as sensitive to the perception that mass transit is dangerous as they are to an actual rise in crime.

In February, following a 45 percent spike in major crimes in the first month of the year compared with the same period last year, Mayor Eric Adams ordered an additional 1,000 police officers into the subway system. Reported crime rates in the system declined that month, according to city data, and the overall rise in major crimes for the year as of March 3 was 13 percent, Police Department data shows.

Ms. Hochul’s announcement this week drew criticism from public officials and from some members of her own party.

Jumaane N. Williams, the city’s public advocate, warned that the plan would “criminalize the public on public transit.” Emily Gallagher, an assemblywoman and democratic socialist from Brooklyn, said that Ms. Hochul’s move was a “ham-fisted and authoritarian response” that validated “G.O.P. propaganda about urban lawlessness in an election year.”

John Chell, the Police Department’s chief of patrol, cited recent statistics suggesting that transit crime had dropped.

“Our transit system is not a ‘war’ zone!” he wrote on X.

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