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Perversion of justice: A proposal to ban subway gropers is a bad idea whose time has not yet come

2019-09-14

Gov. Cuomo, the MTA and the NYPD are leaning on the throttle to ban recidivist sexual offenders from the subways. As currently fleshed out — which is to say, hardly at all — this will be hellishly difficult to implement, while striking a serious blow against the indispensable idea that the city’s public circulatory system is for everyone’s use.

Yes, ex-convicts, who have to get to court appointments, parole check-ins, counseling appointments and jobs, are people too.

We appreciate the attention to a true quality-of-life scourge: The MTA reported 275 arrests for sexual offenses in the subway in 2019, compared to 270 a year ago. Each is a deep and unsettling violation that demands a strong response. Ninety-five of the people who were collared had at least two prior convictions for similar conduct, with a quarter of those having two prior offenses just this year.

In other words, there’s a small contingent of sickos who keep having the opportunity to grope people.

Why? Lather, rinse, repeat: They’re caught, they get convicted or plead guilty, typically to a misdemeanor, and are cut loose. And the public remains at risk.

This is a criminal justice and mental health problem that requires a solution to match.

But it is fantastical to think that a cannot-ride registry would effectively dissuade habitual gropers, who already know what they do is illegal, and may simply find other places to do what they do if barred from trains and platforms.

And while some cops roaming the system might recognize a mug and oust a baddie, that’s sure to be a rare occurrence. Needle in a haystack? Try searching for a specific rat on miles of tracks. The only systematic way to vet entry into a system with 474 stations and 27 train lines is to use face recognition technology, which every official has already ruled out.

Once the idea of banning people from public transit leaves the station, why should it stop with sexual offenders? Those on various terrorist watchlists, who might do more harm to far more people, should be verboten. Same with violent felons and others with a penchant for bad subway behavior (Bernhard Goetz, anyone?).

The problem is the principle. If the Legislature and governor want to take more drastic steps to constrain someone’s freedom after they’ve shown a chronic propensity to commit a particular crime, confining them either to prison or to treatment, we’re all ears.

But when a man is free, he’s free to travel throughout the city.