The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has recently lured away at least 125 officers from the New York Police Department with offers of higher pay and more days off as the transit agency bulks up its patrol force, according to people familiar with the matter.
The state-controlled MTA announced in September that it was hiring 500 officers in large part to tackle homelessness, assaults on transit workers and fare evasion on the subway. Some officers will also patrol other MTA facilities such as its two commuter railroads.
The first cohort of 140 officers hired as part of the initiative begin in waves this month, and the majority come from the NYPD, officials said.
“It’s mainly the pay, but the hours are easier,” one former NYPD officer who is starting at the MTA said in an interview last week. “It’s approximately $15,000 more. It’s huge.”
Base salaries for MTA officer jobs top out at about $100,000 after seven years, according to the agency. Base salaries for the NYPD top out at roughly $85,000 after 5 ½ years on the job. Both the MTA and the NYPD offer employment benefits and overtime. MTA officers typically work longer shifts, but have more days off than NYPD officers.
Transit advocates and some MTA board members questioned the 500 hires when the cash-strapped authority is cutting thousands of jobs and when the Police Department already patrols the subway.
NYPD spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the department is known for the quality of its officers, who work with agencies around the globe.
“It’s no surprise that the MTA is seeking world-class NYPD officers due to the exemplary training and on-the-ground experience,” Ms. Kaye said in a statement. “Just as the NYPD does at the World Trade Center, Port Authority or through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we work closely with law enforcement partners to keep all New Yorkers safe.”
Until recently, MTA officers were trained at the NYPD academy in College Point, Queens, but the new MTA officers won’t be trained there because of capacity issues, Ms. Kaye said.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said in a statement that NYPD officials should be concerned when officers leave the department for higher pay elsewhere. “You can’t blame them for jumping at the opportunity to make more money doing a similar job,” Mr. Lynch said. The police union is currently negotiating with the city for a new contract to replace a previous agreement that expired in 2017.
MTA police mostly cover the authority’s Long Island and Metro-North railroads. The 500 hires would increase the force by up to 60% to a maximum head count of almost 1,300 officers at an estimated cost of $250 million over the next four years.
Critics of the expansion say crime on the subway system is low. They have also raised concerns that officers would unfairly target minorities. New York Attorney General Letitia James said last week that she would investigate whether NYPD officers had targeted communities of color for fare evasion and other low-level offenses on the subways.
Sarah Feinberg, an MTA board member appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said at an authority board meeting in December that riders had legitimate concerns about the NYPD. “The record is troubling,” she said. But she added that the new officers would be trained and controlled by the MTA.
Ms. Feinberg said in a Jan. 16 interview she wasn’t concerned that the MTA was hiring many officers from the NYPD and that she had respect for the force. “We are trying to recruit the best and brightest,” she said. “With any job, when you get to the new place, you follow the guidelines of the new employer.”
Ms. Feinberg said MTA officers would focus on deterrence over enforcement and on community engagement. “It should be heavy on officers patrolling stations and having a presence on trains,” she said.