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Gun Arrests Up 42 Percent On NYC Subway System In Past Year

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD has recorded a big spike in gun arrests in the New York City subway system over the past year – amounting to an increase of 42 percent.

CBS2's Tony Aiello went to the NYPD transit chief Monday to find out what is behind the numbers.

An assortment of guns has been confiscated by police in the subway system this year, from .38-caliber revolvers to a semi-automatic Ruger. Police displayed 10 guns from 10 different subway riders busted just since the beginning of the year.

"It's scary to know that somebody has jumped on the subway with guns," said straphanger Che Pitcher.

"It's frightening," said Vione Stewart. "It's frightening."

Chief Joseph Fox is the head of the Transit Bureau – a division of 2,500 officers who try to keep the nation's busiest subway system among the nation's safest.

"You're much more unsettled about a crime happening in the subway, because you feel that there's no place to run," Fox said.

For Fox, the 42 percent increase in gun arrests in the subway is actually a good sign.

"The numbers going up are reflective of detection and good work by the officers," he said.

But for others, it may also signal an increased willingness by bad guys to carry guns –- emboldened, perhaps, by the dramatic reduction in the number of transit system "stop, question and frisk" encounters.

The figure dropped from almost 14,000 in 2013 to fewer than 2,000 last year.

Retired NYPD Officer Joseph Giacalone, now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the drop in stops and frisks sends a message to criminals.

"Literally, the word is out there, in the respect that they know that cops aren't putting their hands on people," Giacalone said. "I think there's certain cops that will never do it again."

But Fox defended his force.

"We've got some of the best cops in the NYPD down there protecting our commuters," he said.

Good cops are involved, Fox said, as well as some stupid criminals. Six of the 10 guns confiscated this year so far were discovered after officers grabbed men who jumped the turnstile, and another was spotted by a straphanger.

"A guy was sleeping on the train, and his gun was exposed, and a commuter actually notified a conductor who then got us right away," Fox said.

So far this year, there has only been one shooting in the subway system. In the March 10 shooting captured on smartphone video first aired by CBS2, retired correction officer William Groomes, 69, shot and killed Gilbert Drogheo, 32, after a confrontation in the Borough Hall station in downtown Brooklyn.

Chief Fox took CBS2 behind the scenes at the Transit Bureau in downtown Brooklyn. In a space called "the Wheel," a video stream from hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the subway system can be viewed.

Fox said the technology supplements, but can never replace, the men and women who patrol underground. He believes ridership being at a 65-year high is a testament to the job they do to keep the system safe.

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