Big Brother is watching you! Subway car cameras are set to be installed amid growing security concerns, while on the roads, a proposed expansion of a successful city surveillance program would ask New Yorkers to report each other for parking violations. 

Snitch and the City — Reporting fellow New Yorkers
“Snitch and the City” — Would you “rat” on your fellow New Yorkers? Photo montage: Lee Caple.

City Council Member Lincoln Restler is calling for the potential expansion of the Citizens Air Complaint Program — a city-backed initiative called in which civilians who report idling trucks with video proof can earn 25 percent of any fines (generally $85 a pop) collected by the Department of Transportation (DOT) which has attracted zealous New Yorkers concerned about the carbon emissions of idling vehicles…or,  just looking for a payout. Restler’s proposed bill would include parking and parking placard issues, with a portion of the fine being paid to the person making the report.

And it could prove to be a sneaky money maker — according to the New York Times, since 2019 the city has paid $1.1 million in reported Citizens Air Complaint Program bounties, and has increased its overall fine collection by 24 percent since it launched in 2018. 85 percent of complaints in 2020 came from just 20 New Yorkers — among them a retired police detective and several attorneys who call themselves the Idling Warriors, including Paul Slapikas, a former Marine and retired engineer who told the Times he made $64,000 in bounty fees in 2021. 

Subway Surveillance Cameras
The MTA already has surveillance cameras on platforms — but now proposes to test them in subway cars. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Mr Slapikas (who disguises himself as a confused tourist with a flip phone to avert suspicion)  and the other Idling Warriors have Hell’s Kitchen’s frequent commercial deliveries to thank for their payday — zip code 10036 had the highest rate of complaints in 2020, many of them stemming from idling ConEd, FedEx and Amazon trucks, and tour buses. The US Department of Energy states that vehicle idling accounts for as much as 6 billion gallons of wasted gas and 30 million tons of carbon emissions per year. 

But not everyone is in favor of the program. “Rule from Goodfellas : Always keep your mouth shut,” posted one Instagram user, as another commented: “That’s called ratting.” One New Yorker had another suggestion for the reporting program: “I’d report every cop car or city vehicle parked on the sidewalk or double parked outside the police precincts.”

Traffic Cops 9th Avenue Hell's Kitchen
Under new plans, it won’t just be cops keeping an eye on traffic in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

In what was potentially Bill de Blasio’s most well-received move, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the mayor’s office employed rock icon Billy Idol to campaign against the extra emissions, with citywide billboards and commercials declaring, “Billy Never Idles.”

Below ground, city officials have already moved to increase MTA surveillance, expanding from bus cameras to include CCTV in subway cars in response to recent incidents of subway violence. “In our most recent customer survey data, it’s clear our bus customers feel more safe than our subway customers,” Richard Davey, president of New York City Transit told ABC Eyewitness News, adding that the MTA bus system currently has 4,000 cameras installed while subway cars go without. 

Billy Idol New York Idling
One of New York city’s previous efforts to clamp down on idling with Billy Idol was more comedic. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

While subway car video footage will be used as evidence in future incidents, the cameras will not record in real-time and will not be monitored 24/7 — a vulnerability brought into the spotlight during the April 12 Brooklyn subway shooting, where there was no immediate feed of the station platforms or recorded footage identifying the suspect due to camera malfunction. 

Mayor Eric Adams, who held a press conference on the subject Thursday, faced a backlash after seeming to say that straphanger safety relied on female passengers not riding solo. “I saw women passengers in isolated areas, standing alone. That is just unsafe,” Adams said. “So, we must play a role of educating passengers how to be partners in safety.” 

MTA Police Patrols Subway
Police with dogs patrol the subways yesterday at Times Square. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“The ‘don’t stand alone’ to ‘well you were asking for it’ pipeline is reeeeal thin,” responded one Twitter user. 

For now, it appears that the subway car cameras won’t transmit footage in time to save you if someone approaches you on the platform, but perhaps the ever-watchful Idling Warriors can step in. 

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  1. THE BEST IDEA AND NEWS IN A WHILE…I WILL BE A RAT AAAAALLLLL DAY!!! Next on agenda should be electric bikes, scooters and anyone on a bike not obeying the law and terrorizing the city! I’m going out to make some money off the morons!

  2. “Big Brother Watching” is an antiquated thing. The websites you visit on your laptop, the apps you use on your phone — all these things track your online activity, and place you into cohorts and know all about you. (Even MetroCards). I say this because we’re living in times where we need to give up something (privacy in public spaces) in order to allow cameras to record, and in some instances, in observe in real-time. There’s no silver bullet to help reduce crime, but this is another element to what’s necessary these days.

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