May 11, 2012
By Ray Parker, Staff Writer
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, a six-term incumbent who has racked up an impressive record, told transit workers on Thursday that the laws on the books don’t give his office enough ammo to go after the perps who prey on bus operators.
Speaking at the first National Transit Assault Conference, held on Jay Street near MetroTech, Hynes told an audience that included top transit union officials from both the ATU and the TWU, and the top echelon of MTA executives from Joseph Lhota on down, that if a bus operator suffers a cut lip or a cut above the eyes that requires sutures, that this was not a severe enough injury under current laws to net the perpetrator a conviction for assault in the second degree.
He said that the definition of “physical injury” in the penal law needs to be broadened. “Needing sutures is a damn serious physical injury,” he said. “But it’s not considered so by the courts.”
Getting tougher on offenders also got support from Queens DA Richard Brown, who was also on the panel with Hynes, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, Staten
Island DA Daniel Donovan, and Tony Schepis of the Office of Bronx DA Robert Johnson. Brown urged transit workers and their supporters to get a specific legislative mandate to go after passengers who spit on drivers so that the act could be prosecuted as an assault. Brown said that, now that New York State has mandated DNA collection in all criminal cases, saliva could and should be used to identify suspects who spit on drivers.
Executive Assistant DA Schepis, from the Bronx, said that the MTA should consider giving witnesses who come forward after a driver is assaulted a free one-year unlimited MetroCard for their trouble. And DA Cyrus Vance said that his office is “very interested in figuring out what kinds of folks are committing repeat offenses against transit workers. We need to be prepared whenever they com into the transit system,” he said. “They are committing most of the crimes.”
Each DA said that attacks on transit workers are being vigorously prosecuted and are given special attention at their offices. And MTA Bus President Darryl Irick, who is in the hotseat on the assault issue, said the Authority is open to creative ideas about how to confront the problem. According to TWU Local 100 and the MTA, assaults against transit workers are trending upward over the last three years, possibly because service cuts have made tempers short among passengers who are angry about waiting for their rides.