The plan, which calls for stricter enforcement of the transit system’s rules, also promises to offer more mental-health services and housing options to those who shelter underground.
Andy Newman, Dana Rubinstein and
Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Friday a sweeping plan to deploy teams of police officers and social workers into New York City’s subway, pledging to remove homeless people who shelter on trains and platforms, some of whom have contributed to escalating violence in the system.
The police will stringently enforce the subway’s often flouted rules of conduct, including bans on occupying more than one seat, littering and being aggressive toward other passengers. Dozens of mental-health professionals with the power to order involuntary hospitalization of people they deem a danger to themselves or others will be added to outreach teams across the system.
“No more just doing whatever you want,” Mr. Adams said. “Those days are over. Swipe your MetroCard, ride the system, get off at your destination. That’s what this administration is saying.”
The measures come as a spike in violent crime in the transit system, including several high-profile shoving incidents, has made public safety a paramount concern for many riders, with some saying it has caused them to stay off the subway.
While subway ridership has rebounded slowly since plummeting at the onset of the pandemic, to just over half of prepandemic levels, the system faces a perilous financial future, and its long-term survival depends on more commuters feeling trains are safe enough to ride, officials said on Friday.
The new policies also come in the aftermath of a horrifying crime at the Times Square subway station in January, when a 40-year-old woman, Michelle Alyssa Go, was pushed in front of a train and a homeless man with a history of schizophrenia was charged with her murder.
Immediately after Ms. Go’s death, Mr. Adams said that “New Yorkers are safe on the subway system,” adding that the problem was one of perception. “What we must do is remove the perception of fear,” he said then.
After drawing some backlash for the comment, Mr. Adams said he personally did not feel safe riding the subway.
But Friday’s plan was short on some details and timelines, and given the chronic shortage of housing options that are palatable and affordable to most people who choose to live in the subway, it was not clear where homeless people evicted en masse from the transit system would immediately go, if not the street. There was little discussion of the cost of the plan and how it would be paid for.
Still, the announcement, for which the mayor and governor were joined at a subway station in Lower Manhattan by the police commissioner, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, and city and state mental-health officials, underscored the seriousness of the issue and the central role officials believe the subway will play in reviving the city’s pandemic-scarred economy.
In 2021, the rates of violent crime in the subway system per million weekday passengers were up almost across the board compared with 2019. Felony assaults in the subway were up nearly 25 percent, despite the pandemic-fueled drop in ridership.
Thirty people were pushed onto the tracks in 2021, up from 20 in 2019 and nine in 2017, the police said.
“People tell me about their fear of using the system,” Mr. Adams said. “And we’re going to ensure that fear is not New York’s reality.”
The mayor and governor presented a host of measures that they said would connect the hundreds of homeless people sheltering on the transit system, many of whom struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, to services and permanent housing.
But Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy for the Coalition for the Homeless, said that the plan amounted to criminalizing mental illness.
“Repeating the failed outreach-based policing strategies of the past will not end the suffering of homeless people bedding down on the subway,” she said in a statement.
Ms. Nortz welcomed provisions of the plan that call for increasing the numbers of available psychiatric inpatient beds, shelters with private rooms, and supportive housing apartments, which come with on-site social services.
But she was skeptical about the idea of expanding involuntary commitment at the cost of civil liberties, at a time when there was a desperate need for “ready access to voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, including medication.”
Schools Chancellor: David Banks. The longtime New York City educator, who rose to prominence after creating a network of public all-boys schools, takes the lead at the nation’s largest public school system as it struggles to emerge from the pandemic.
Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives becomes New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.
Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. The former N.Y.P.D. officer, who was the chief of the Las Vegas public safety department, is tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.
Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor returns to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.
Transportation Commissioner: Ydanis Rodriguez. The Manhattan council member is a trusted ally of Mr. Adams. Mr. Rodriguez will face major challenges in his new role: In 2021, traffic deaths in the city soared to their highest level since 2013, partly due to speeding and reckless driving.
Health Commissioner: Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, stays in the role to provide continuity to the city’s pandemic response. In mid-March, Dr. Vasan, the president of a mental health and public health charity, will take over.
Deputy mayors. Mr. Adams announced five women as deputy mayors, including Lorraine Grillo as his top deputy. Philip Banks III, a former N.Y.P.D. chief who resigned while under federal investigation in 2014, later announced his own appointment as deputy mayor for public safety.
Executive director of mayoral security: Bernard Adams. Amid concerns of nepotism, Mayor Adams’s brother, who is a retired police sergeant, will oversee mayoral security after he was originally named as deputy police commissioner.
The city had already stepped up police presence in the subways this year, directing 1,000 more officers to patrol the system in early January. A week later, two officers were on the other end of the platform when Ms. Go was pushed to her death.
The new effort, which is detailed in a document released Friday called The Subway Safety Plan, goes into effect next week, Mr. Adams said.
It attempts to address a frequent complaint from advocates and homeless people that mere “outreach,” where a homeless person is typically offered simply a room in a barrackslike group shelter — which he or she typically declines — is insufficient. The plan calls for the creation of about 500 new beds in private rooms.
Police officers will form teams with outreach workers and clinicians that will canvass stations and trains to steer homeless and mentally ill people out of the transit system and toward help, bringing people to hospitals when warranted.
The teams — there will be up to 30 of them — will focus on high-priority stations and train lines where either ridership or reported crime have increased, Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner, said.
The measures build on a state plan announced by Ms. Hochul last month to create similar teams, known as “Safe Options Support” teams, though those groups have yet to be formed or deployed.
Taking broader aim at the problem of untreated mental illness, the plan calls for expanding Kendra’s Law, which enables a judge to order someone with mental illness into outpatient treatment.
“There are many rivers that feed the sea of homelessness,” Mr. Adams said, “and we’re going to have to dam every river if we are going to address this issue.”
The plan also addresses the decrease in inpatient psychiatric beds at hospitals both statewide and in the city, which some experts say has contributed to the number of people with severe mental illness in the streets and subways.
One reason hospitals have closed psychiatric beds is that Medicaid slashed reimbursements for longer psychiatric stays. Ms. Hochul said Friday that the state would increase Medicaid reimbursement for psychiatric beds by 10 percent and would ask the federal government to match that with another 10 percent.
For homeless people with mental illness, there has long been a shortage of supportive housing; applying for a slot often involves a bewildering amount of red tape.
The plan promises to expand the availability of supportive housing and reduce “the amount of paperwork it takes to apply.”
NYC Officials Announce Plan to Remove Homeless People from Subways – The New York Times