New York Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the New York National Guard to begin patrolling the NYC subway system Wednesday with an emphasis on finding illegal weapons among riders. The governor cited a string of violent attacks on the NYC subway system in recent months including a Subway conductor who was slashed in the neck while working in Brooklyn in February.

“No one heading to their job or to visit family or go to a doctor’s appointment should worry that the person sitting next to them possesses a deadly weapon,” Hochul said at a press conference on subway safety initiatives. “They shouldn’t worry about whether someone’s going to brandish a knife or a gun – that’s what we’re going to do at these checkpoints.”

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Hochul said the state would dedicate 750 members of the New York National Guard along with 250 personnel from Metropolitan Transportation Authority police and state police to “conduct bag checks in the city’s busiest transit stations” looking for weapons.

A National Guard spokesperson told Task & Purpose that Guard members deployed to the subway will be armed only with M17 pistols, not rifles, though a video on social media Wednesday night captured a guard member with an M-4 rifle at a subway entrance. The guard members do not have the power to make arrests but will “work side by side with MTA police and NYPD, who do have that power,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office told Task & Purpose.

The members are part of Joint Task Force Empire Shield which has been around since after 9/11 and were previously activated to patrol the subways to detect, deter, and prevent potential terrorist operations in the NYC Metropolitan Area after bombings and attempted bombings in New York and New Jersey in 2016.

The governor’s announcement is the latest in a string of state officials using the National Guard for unorthodox fixes from filling in as school bus drivers during a shortage to mobilizing to hospitals during the pandemic. The guard has also been called upon to act as hall monitors for a Massachusetts school, staff at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. The Governor of Texas has kept his Guard troops on duty at the U.S.-Mexico border since March 2021. 

The extra duties add to the guard’s already long list of responsibilities which include mobilizations across the country for wildfire and hurricane response and scheduled deployments around the world.

“Riding the subway which should just simply be a part of your everyday life is filled with stress and trepidation,” she said.

Hochul’s subway safety plan that was announced Wednesday also includes a new program bill that would allow judges to ban people convicted of an assault on the subway from using the NYC transit system as part of their sentencing.

UPDATE: 3/6/2024; This story has been updated with information that video circulated on social media Wednesday evening of at least one Guardsman on duty in the subway carrying an M-4 rifle.

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