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An Unfinished Plan

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An Unfinished Plan

Mayor Adams’s new proposal for subway safety appears comprehensive but is not likely to change the fundamental dynamics of homelessness on mass transit. February 22, 2022
New York
Public safety
Politics and law

Last Friday, Mayor Eric Adams announced a Subway Safety Plan that, he said, would mean “no more smoking, no more doing drugs, no more sleeping, no more barbecues on the subway system, and no more just doing whatever you want.” But the plan is not a crime-fighting plan; it is a homeless-control plan that expands on last month’s promise by the mayor and Governor Kathy Hochul that a record number of cops would be “omnipresent” underground.

The day after the plan’s announcement, four stabbings rocked the transit system. An attack on a homeless man showed that the subway can be as unsafe for the homeless themselves as for riders who view them with fear. On Saturday at 3 a.m., three men demanded money from the 46-year-old victim at the Jamaica–Van Wyck station in Kew Gardens. When he resisted, he was stabbed in the buttocks and thighs before the assailants fled. About 12 hours later, a woman arguing with her assailant on the 3 train in Manhattan was stabbed three times and hospitalized. Then, at about 8:30 p.m., in Washington Heights, a 24-year-old man was jumped by two teenagers. Stabbed with a boxcutter (a dangerous weapon under the New York State Penal Law), he retained his property when the assailants fled. Also in Manhattan, a 31-year-old man riding south argued with a man and a woman because she was smoking. He, too, was stabbed and hospitalized; the couple escaped at the 116th Street station. These attacks followed stabbings earlier in the week—one on a break-dancer onboard a train near the First Avenue station in the East Village, another a slashing in Queens, one stop east of the Jamaica–Van Wyck station.

The new safety plan would appear to be comprehensive. It touches all bases of law enforcement, social services, and mental health, as well as the trendy “peer involvement.” It introduces New Yorkers to a tossed salad of new acronyms, including joint response teams of cops and Department of Homeless Services, Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and community-based providers; five community-based homeless-outreach and transit-hub teams to concentrate on busy stations; a dozen mental-health neighborhood-response unit teams of medical staff, behavioral-health clinicians, and peers (left undefined); and end-of-line teams of MTA and city personnel who will apparently require patrons refusing to exit to seek shelter elsewhere. It also sets up a dozen cross-agency teams—combining an outreach worker, clinician, and police officer—to steer clients to teams of helpers who will remain on the station platforms to offer increased engagement and care, including shelter to those in need who have been ejected from the train cars. And it creates six new joint Fire Department & Health + Hospital (H+H) Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (“B-HEARD”) teams, beyond the 11 currently existing.

Yet the plan seems unfinished. It involves considerable overlap and makes no mention of the Office of Community Mental Health established at the end of 2021 by former mayor Bill de Blasio to formalize the $1 billion THRIVE–NYC project run by his wife. Indeed, the plan doesn’t detail any costs, nor does it indicate when some or all of these team members will be hired or reassigned from current activities.

Other details have emerged. At an earlier briefing, Hochul announced that ten of a possible 100 clinicians had already been assigned. Currently, the 2,500 Transit Bureau cops are being augmented by an additional 1,000 cops. New bureau chief Jason Wilcox has made getting officers onto trains a high priority, though he hasn’t yet replicated 1970s efforts to have two uniformed officers ride all late-night trains. A weekly Enhanced Outreach Taskforce (EOT) Meeting, based on the NYPD’s Compstat, will include representatives from each of the agencies named and a number with no direct responsibilities for the program.

Amid all the talking and meeting, authorities also intend to review Kendra’s Law (New York State Mental Hygiene Law § 9.60), which, since November 1999, has allowed for involuntary assistance outpatient treatment after a judge orders people who pose a risk to themselves or to others to undergo psychiatric treatment.

I would be amazed if Mayor Adams, a retired NYPD captain who began his career as a transit cop, believes that all those using the subway will follow his admonition: “Swipe your MetroCard. Ride the system. Get off at your destination.” That didn’t happen in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, the failure of the city to address homelessness and mental-health issues has led to a growing number of riders who not only have no MetroCards but also have no destinations. Whatever its virtues, this Subway Safety Plan is unlikely to change that dynamic.

Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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