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Commissioner Bratton To Subway Riders: 'Give Us Some Help'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- While Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the city may have had its safest January ever, he also called on New Yorkers Wednesday to do their part to stay alert and reduce the risk of assault – particularly within the transit system.

Bratton was joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio as he discussed the latest figures Wednesday afternoon. They noted that 2015 was a great year for crime-fighting with a drop of nearly 2 percent in serious crime the year before, and said January 2016 had seen an even better record.

"Murders are down 45 percent, shootings down 34 percent, overall crime down 10 percent compared to just a year ago – one January compared to last," de Blasio said. "It's unbelievable progress."

"It sends a clear message to anybody in this city who would perpetrate violence against their fellow New Yorkers...we will find you," de Blasio added.

But the story was not so rosy for transit system crime and especially for felony assault. Transit crime for January was up 36.4 percent, while felony assault was up a staggering 208.3 percent.

When asked how he explained the discrepancy, Bratton said, "The idea is that there's so little crime that we're paying a lot of attention to a relatively small amount of crime."

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Dermot Shea explained further.

"It's an increase of 25 assaults. We mentioned that because of so many incidents, we have additional deployment transit and made more arrests that resulted in, I believe it was 11 or 12 additional transit officers getting assaulted. That's a third of that increase right there."

Further, Shea explained, the definition of felony assault has also changed over the years.

"Felony assault is constantly changing," Shea said. "There are actions that today would constitute a felony assault that two years ago, three years ago would not."

But both the mayor and the NYPD acknowledged that transit crime is a problem, and said they are taking action to fix it.

"What you're going to be seeing over the next couple weeks is additional uniforms done in the subways, and what you're not going to be seeing is additional plainclothes personnel," Bratton said.

Bratton further urged New Yorkers to avoid sleeping on the subway. He used a 1967 hit song by Petula Clark to help get his point across to straphangers, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

"Don't sleep in the subways darling. One of the areas we're going to focus on is subways are not for sleeping, Bratton said. "I know a whole lot of people are tired, they work very hard, but our officers are going to be instructed to start waking people up."

Bratton also said 50 percent of the reported crimes in the subway involve sleeping passengers, as reported by 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa.

"You might miss your stop if you're sleeping, you might lose your wallet or your iPhone, you might be the subject of a sexual assault. So why put yourself at that risk? Even though we'll increase our patrols… I want to encourage in this area, give us some help if you will," Bratton said.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, it was a sleeping passenger who was targeted on the northbound No. 4 Train recently. Police said it was 3 a.m. when the slumbering straphanger woke up to find the man trying to cut open his pocket with a razor blade.

The victim was punched in the face when he tried to stop the suspect.

Bratton said officers will wake up anyone catching a few Z's on the train. Robert Brill of the Upper West Side thought it was a good idea, but more needs to be done.

"I think it will help," he said. "It won't eliminate crime. People who are stabbing people with blades, slashing people -- that will require active patrol."

Brill is a regular subway rider, and an attorney who also once represented transit police officers when the separate NYPD entity existed. He said it is not just up to police to keep us safe.

"New Yorkers have to continue to have the sense of moxie that we always had," he said. "It doesn't mean that the subways aren't safe, it just means if you put yourself in to a position where you're going to be a victim, there are people out there who will take advantage."

Meanwhile, any residents remain concerned regarding safety issues while traveling in general.

"It's unfair to people, you know. People trying to commute, get to work," said Len Stephens of Tremont, the Bronx. "It's bad enough we have delays every day, why not keep the peace?"

Stephens wants more police in the subway system.

"They're undercover on a daily basis in the streets, be undercover in the subways and catch these criminals," Stephens said.

"I hope we can get some security guards," rider Julia Weinzimer told Macedo.

Weinzimer did not think the new emergency call boxes would be of much help.

"Probably not, because by the time someone pushes the button, you know they've been stabbed," she said.

Other riders said they wanted to see different measures.

"There should be either more surveillance, or maybe more cops in the trains," said Jose Cruz of the Bronx.

January's numbers also show police are cracking down on panhandling in the subways. Arrests there are up 9.8 percent.

"I had someone ask me for money one day, and she got really angry and starting kicking the chair, it was scary," said Red Hook resident Ana Ocampo.

"I think if we try to make space for, I don't know, therapy or whatever, to try to help people instead of ostracizing them, because that's not going to fix the problem," said Loren Mora of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

In the most recent subway slashing, a 30-year-old man was slashed on the chin with a pocket knife while on a No. 3 train Monday afternoon.

Police said 37-year-old Stephen Braithwaite is charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon in the case. He has a history of arrests and police said he suffers from schizophrenia.

Monday's attack makes seven subway slashings this year. According to the NYPD, so far for this year, there have been at least 365 slashings and stabbings citywide. For the same time last year, there were 305 -- a 19.67 percent increase.

On a radio show Monday, Bratton called the recent subway slashings an aberration attracting media attention, 1010 WINS' John Montone reported.

"Last year in the month of January we had three slashing incidents that did not attract any media attention," Bratton said on Gambling Radio. "What happens from time to time, a series of incidents occur that attracts significant media attention as well as certainly appropriate police attention and that's what's happening here."

Bratton said his department is looking into banning career criminals from the subways altogether.

"We are looking actively and have begun discussions with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and it may ultimately require potentially some legislation up in Albany that some of these career criminals that use subways to prey on victims, we find some way to exclude them as they parole and try to maintain order on the subways," Bratton said.

The MTA board is also working with the NYPD to bring additional security measures to the subways.

The Guardian Angels have started patrolling the subways again in wake of the slashings.

There were two additional slashings on Tuesday, though neither were in the subway system.

In one incident, a man was slashed in the face late Tuesday night in Harlem.

Police say the man was walking and looking at his phone on 110th Street off Lenox Avenue at around 11:30 p.m. when he was approached by six men, according to police.

The men tried to steal the 31-year-old victim's phone and slashed him in the face, police said.

They ran off empty-handed, according to police.

In another incident in the Bronx, a 65-year-old man was attacked by a man with a knife who demanded money after he closed his business on Olmstead Avenue, police said.

The attacker held the knife against the victim's neck during the robbery, and got away with thousands.

The victim suffered slash wounds to his neck and finger, police said.

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