NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- State Attorney General Letitia James has launched a probe of the NYPD's fare evasion tactics to see if blacks and Hispanics who ride buses and subways are being unfairly targeted.
It is a conundrum faced by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the police that has people who ride in the crosshairs, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday.
On the one hand, the MTA says fare evasion is a $300 million annual problem. On the other, the NYPD's arrest data shows 73% of people who receive fare evasion tickets and 90% of those arrested on the charge are black and Hispanic.
James wants to know if cops have a racial bias. Her investigation will determine if cops discriminate against communities of color in deciding who to arrest.
"If groups of New Yorkers have been unfairly targeted because of the color of their skin, my office will not hesitate to take legal action," James said in a statement.
In a letter to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea she requested data on arrests, policing and training tactics.
The civil rights probe comes after several black and Hispanic cops signed an affidavit in a discrimination lawsuit, saying they were ordered by a Brooklyn commander to ignore whites and Asians and pursue blacks and Latinos for minor offenses like turnstile jumping.
"The attorney general is asking an important question and we'll certainly work with her," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The NYPD is defending its tactics.
"The NYPD's transit officers patrol day and night to keep 6 million daily riders safe and enforce the law fairly and equally without consideration of race or ethnicity," a Department spokesperson said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to comment on the suit itself, but he was highly critical of the relationship between NYPD cops and the communities they serve.
"I feel a tension in the NYPD relationship with the community they serve that I think is probably as bad as anything I've seen in my lifetime," Cuomo said. "We have seen incidents, viral videos, where there is a lack of respect and a tension between the NYPD and the community that hurts both."
NYPD spokesperson Devora Kaye sent CBS2 the following statement: "The governor's comments are disrespectful to the men and women of the NYPD whose hard work and sacrifice keep New Yorkers safe."
The MTA said it will cooperate with the probe. It recently bowed to Cuomo's demand to hire 500 more police officers to cope with fare evasion, the homeless and an increase in assaults on MTA personnel.
The attorney general gave the NYPD until Feb. 10 to turn over its records.
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