Video of two NYPD officers dragging and handcuffing a man at the 8th Avenue L train station on Monday underscores concerns over Mayor Eric Adams’ new plan to send more cops onto subways, advocates say. And an accompanying initiative to have state-funded social service workers conduct outreach activities instead of the police will only be rolled out in the spring.
Six days into his tenure on Thursday, New York’s new mayor partnered with Gov. Kathy Hochul to present a familiar response to concerns about homeless people on subways: a wave of cops to help passengers get through feel safe underground.
To homeless New Yorkers and their advocates, the strategy closely resembled decisions by former governors and mayors to step up patrols and kick people off trains and platforms. But Mayor Eric Adams, a former transit cop, said that plan would be different. Officers, he said, “will contact our outreach officers so they can respond – not to involve officers, unless there is criminal activity that requires immediate attention.” .
“It’s about building trust,” Adams added.
This message did not appear to reach two officers patrolling the 8th Avenue L station just before 1 a.m. on Monday.
Cell phone video shared with City Limits shows officers flanking a man as he sits on the steps leading to the train platform, hands on his shoulder and wrists. The man can be heard shouting “No” before officers attempt to handcuff him to his left wrist. As the man continued to scream and escape the police force, the two cops dragged him to the platform, pulled his arms behind his back, and handcuffed him.
Video of 2 officers dragging and handcuffing a man at 8th Avenue L train station just before 1 a.m. on Monday highlights concerns about @NYCMayorNew plan to send more cops to subways, advocates say
through @ shift_in2_turbo
– David Brand (@DavidFbrand) January 12, 2022
While it’s not clear if the man was homeless, the encounter highlights criticism among homeless New Yorkers and advocates who say Adams’ plan to lead more cops on trains will lead to interactions. aggressive without connecting people in need to appropriate services, shelters or housing. .
“It was just days after the mayor and governor’s big press conference on how they were changing the way the city deals with the homeless,” said Karim Walker, a former homeless New Yorker. shelter who filmed the encounter after performing at the scene. “There was no outreach team in sight. “
Walker, an advocate for the Human.nyc group, asked why the police decided to move the man. “He looked calm. He didn’t sound violent, ”Walker said. “It was the police who escalated this.”
An NYPD spokesperson said officers attempted to escort the man, 54, up the stairs and handcuffed him after he became “combative.” Police officers did not arrest the man and instead took him to Beth Israel Hospital for evaluation, the spokesperson said.
Officers did not wait for an outreach team, as Adams described, although they could have contacted teams from the Bowery Resident Committee (BRC), which contracts with the city to conduct outreach activities in the area. the public transport system. Five other agencies contract with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to do surface outreach in New York.
Adams’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the video, which City Limits shared with them before posting this story.
At last Thursday’s press conference, Adams and Hochul presented a corresponding plan to strengthen existing outreach teams. Five state-funded Safe Option Support (SOS) teams, each consisting of eight to 10 social workers, will eventually inspect trains and refer unprotected New Yorkers to city-run services, Hochul said.
“We are going to give them the support they need, put them in a shelter and, ultimately, in housing,” she said. “We have to have a multidimensional approach. “
But the new outreach teams won’t begin work until late spring, a spokesperson for the state’s Office of Mental Health (OMH) said on Friday. That leaves a potential six-month gap between Adams’ policing plan and the enhanced mental health component he discussed with Hochul.
Hochul and OMH have yet to describe the new services that state outreach teams will add when they become operational.
After the press conference, Adams’s office questioned the governor about the months-long gap. The governor’s office turned to the OMH. OMH spokesperson James Plastiras said the agency was not concerned about the lack of outreach teams as the state was already funding nonprofit providers to bring New Yorkers homeless people in the streets in contact with shelters and mental health services.
The two leaders are rolling out their law enforcement plan and related social service commitment, while metro use is at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels, Hochul said. An April 2021 investigation by the MTA found that about a third of New Yorkers who have stopped using the subway since the COVID crisis began cite fear of crime as their primary deterrent.
While overall crime is on the decline in the transit system, the violent crime rate per 1 million weekday riders has increased from 2019, The New York Times reported. There is also a perception of danger, fueled by mayoral candidates heading into last year’s elections and by one of Hochul’s main rivals in the June primaries.
“If we don’t make people feel safe, I won’t be able to attract them here,” Hochul said. “It’s not sustainable for New York City.”
But violent crime and homelessness are not synonymous. And people who choose to sleep on trains and platforms say they do because subways are a safer and warmer option than the outdoors. Homeless New Yorkers surveyed by City Limits consistently say they don’t want to enter group shelters and instead want private rooms with a path to permanent housing.
READ MORE: Tracking the number of people in New York City homeless shelters in 2022
On January 7, the first major snowfall of the year, and a day after Adams and Hochul’s press conference, 38-year-old Latisha Patterson sat on a flattened cardboard box on the floor of the platform E train to Queens at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue. . She said she had slept there for the past four days and described her desire for a private or semi-private space, after being bullied and robbed inside group shelters. Despite her negative past experiences, Patterson said she almost visited an admission shelter the night before. . She decided not to do so because she had heard that COVID-19 was on the rise at the group’s facilities, she said.
“I don’t want to be there because of the virus,” she said. “I want my own room.”
New York City has increased the number of rooms specially reserved for New Yorkers sleeping in public spaces. Over the past two years, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), which did not respond to requests for comment on Adams’ policing and Hochul’s outreach plans, has opened hundreds of new SafeHaven beds and stabilization, which have no curfews and fewer restrictions than its traditional shelters.
Data compiled by Human.nyc Last year, DHS ‘strategy of opening new stabilization beds in private hotel rooms was found to have the effect of encouraging more New Yorkers to leave subways and sidewalks and stay in a shelter.
Group director Josh Dean said simply sending new outreach teams into the metro system could confuse clients who often won’t agree to relocate to shelters until after they’ve developed long term relationships with regular workers. Police moving people from familiar spaces where outreach teams know where to find them won’t help either, he said.
He pointed to a range of service organizations, advocates and homeless New Yorkers who have spoken out against the immediate law enforcement plan and questioned the pending outreach strategy. He compared the latest approach to the ex-governor. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut down subways to lock down homeless New Yorkers at the start of the pandemic, and former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to send around 750 additional police officers to trains in the past two years.
“The fact that all defenders react with a sense of worry is testament to the idea that we’ve been through this before,” Dean said.
He urged Hochul to spend more money on additional housing or private shelter options for homeless street New Yorkers, a responsibility that falls disproportionately on the city.
“Why not take the resources you invest in this project and invest them in supporting the outreach teams that already exist, and adding more housing and more beds than people say they want,” he added. . “It would be a better use of time, energy and resources.”
New beds for homeless New Yorkers may be on the way as part of Hochul’s outreach plan. The state will provide homeless residents with the “support they need, put them in shelter and ultimately in housing,” she said on January 6. to create or maintain affordable housing.
Yet, said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United, it remains to be seen what other services the state funds besides outreach teams.
“What new value will these teams add in terms of investment opportunities? Says Trapani. “Are they going to fund new SafeHaven beds? Are there any resources or real estate that the state can offer to help us identify new opportunities? “
“It would be promising,” she added.