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We Ask Three Subway Riders at Grand Central: Do These Bag Checks Make You Feel Safe?

A day after Governor Kathy Hochul dispatched the National Guard to subway stations, a cursory bag check was supposed to make all the difference.

MTA police inspect a bag on Thursday, March 7th. (Hell Gate)

At around 1 p.m. on Thursday, a group of MTA police officers were standing stoically, looking ahead, when they flagged down Manhattan resident Katie Stone, and searched her bag. The officers briefly shined a flashlight into her shoulder bag, and waved her along.

"I don't know that you're really going to uncover something like a weapon," Stone told Hell Gate after the search. "I feel like it's kind of done in a willy-nilly, cursory fashion. But I think having a presence inside the subway system is very important."

Stone said she already feels safe on the subway, which she rides everyday. 

"Crime happens on the subway, but I don't feel like it's so exorbitant like the local nightly news wants to say," Stone said. "But I do think there's been some issues developing over time with an increased homeless population trying to find a warm place to sleep, and exacerbated by mental health or substance abuse issues."

The inspection checkpoint at Grand Central. (Hell Gate)

Bag checks on the subway are nothing new—many New Yorkers have had to wait at Myrtle-Broadway or Court Square while NYPD officers rummage through their stuff. But while bag checks were first instituted in the wake of the 2005 bombings in London, this latest wave of searches comes at a time of relative safety on the subway.

On Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that she'd be deploying 750 members of the National Guard and 250 State Police and MTA Police officers to conduct bag searches in the subway system, in order to create a "psychological effect on would-be wrongdoers." 

"People who are thinking about bringing a gun or a knife on the subway—at least this creates a deterrent effect," Hochul said, referencing attacks on transit workers that have occurred in recent weeks. "They might be thinking, You know what? It just may not be worth it because I listen to the mayor and I listen to the governor and they have a lot more people checking my bags. That is what we hope will happen."

State troopers outside of the inspection checkpoint at Grand Central. (Hell Gate)

If people refused to be searched on their way into public transportation, Governor Hochul said on Thursday morning that they're "not taking the subway." (In fact, New Yorkers could refuse the bag check and go to another station entrance.) 

While video of National Guard soldiers appeared on social media on Wednesday almost immediately after Hochul's announcement, by Thursday, guardsmen were nowhere to be found at Grand Central or Times Square. At Grand Central, at the entry to the crosstown shuttle, in one of the few bag checks operating in the city, MTA police were flanked by state police officers holding long guns, next to a "SECURITY INSPECTION CHECKPOINT" sign. 

Amanda, who didn't want to give her last name, was also stopped by the police, who took less than two seconds to look into her bag. She had traveled in from Westchester and said she rides the train every one or two weeks. 

"I don't think that they did a very thorough look at my bag at all," she said. "I mean, I guess it's better than nothing, but I don't think that they really did too much."

A cop on his phone at Grand Central. (Hell Gate)

Still, like Stone, Amanda felt safer in the subways with the presence of more police. 

"I've been more concerned lately, that's for sure," she told Hell Gate. "I've heard in the news that it's gotten worse."

Misbah Rahman also had his bag checked—he's from Manchester in England, and was visiting New York with two friends. He said bag checks like the one he experienced weren't common in the UK, and that he felt very safe during his time traveling through New York City on the subways, which he felt was the best way to get around. 

"You see a lot of crazy stuff online about the subway, but we haven't seen anything. You see a lot of big rats too online, but haven't seen them either," he told Hell Gate.

The one thing that stuck out to him during his trip? The amount of people visibly struggling in the city. 

"You see a lot of poverty, people on drugs. In the UK you don't see poverty like this there." 

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