Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday a new plan to address subway crime and homelessness with more police.
Despite echoes of the Cuomo-era playbook, which saw police as the solution for tackling the issue of the homeless in the subway system, they said their approach, one that includes teams of outreach workers and more housing options, will be different.
“This is where you don’t need to be siloed or have turf battles, you team together, that’s how it works,” Hochul said Thursday. “That’s what’s been missing.”
Further details of the plan were scant: City officials didn't immediately provide the number of officers involved. The governor will issue a request for proposals for organizations that can address mental health and homeless issues. She also touted her State of the State goal: To build 100,000 affordable housing units and 10,000 supportive housing units in the next five years.
Adams said he will deploy "hundreds" of police officers to both target high crime subway stations, and also send officers who regularly patrol above ground, to also travel underground and ride the trains.
“When you walk through that train and the public sees you they feel the level of confidence that the system is a safe place to be,” Adams said.
At the same time, he insisted police are not being sent to harass the homeless.
“We will not allow our police officers to have unnecessary engagement with homeless individuals, and those petty issues that would cause a negative [encounter] with police officers and riders of the public,” he said.
Last spring, the city sent more officers to patrol the subways after a series of brutal attacks in the subway, bringing the total of officers to 1,100 — the most transit police in 25 years, according to Mayor de Blasio.
“We need to shift away from the idea that the reason to help people move off of the subways is because of a perceived threat or danger posed by people without housing,” Jacquelyn Simone, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, said. “And rather focus on it as a necessary intervention because housing is a fundamental human right and it should be about the needs of people who are homeless, rather than the comfort of people who are fortunate enough to be stably housed.”
Simone added that if Hochul’s plan is going to work, the state needs to make it easier for unhoused people to access supportive housing, by reducing the bureaucratic hurdles many people face now.
Karim Walker, with the group Human.nyc, which works independently of the city and state to conduct homeless outreach, said his group is still waiting for more details, but he has concerns.
“The Mayor initially said that the NYPD will not be engaging homeless people, but then his Commissioner said the NYPD will wake up sleeping passengers,” Walker wrote in an email. “As someone who has previously been homeless on the subways, I know that waking up a sleeping homeless person is an act of misguided benevolence. People sleep on the subways when it is their safest last option, especially during a pandemic where COVID cases in shelters are rising. We recommend that NYPD stay out of homeless outreach, and instead that the city and state empower homeless outreach teams to provide basic needs items and then permanent housing. More outreach without more housing is not useful.”
People sleep on the subways when it is their safest last option, especially during a pandemic where COVID cases in shelters are rising.
The MTA cited rider safety in its statement of support.
"Recent ridership surveys show that safety is riders' highest priority as they return to the system," agency spokesman Tim Minton said. "And deployment of officers to platforms and on trains, and providing humane and effective assistance to homeless persons are great steps toward improving the transit environment for all.”
The head of Transport Workers Union Local 100 Tony Utano, also praised Thursday’s announcement.
“We’re happy the new governor and new mayor are working together to improve safety for both riders and workers,” Utano wrote in a statement. “Riders come in and out of the system, but this is our office. This is where we spend 8, 10, or even more hours a day. The mayor and governor are giving the issue of public safety in the transit system the focus and attention that’s required.”
At a recent MTA board meeting, NYPD Transit Chief Kathleen O'Reilly said crimes committed in the subways account for less than 2% of all crime in the city. The most recent subway crime statistics from January through November show a 3.6% decrease in felony crimes. Major crime dropped in all categories, except for felony assaults, which had 100 more incidents than in 2020.
Manhattan resident Roslyn Ross said she had been impressed when she saw Adams taking the subway to work earlier in the week. But she added that she hoped he would be able to see what she sees during her commutes.
“There’s generally a lot of people who are mentally ill and who need attention,” she said. “And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
With reporting by Elizabeth Kim