City ‘Subway Safety Plan’ includes humane treatment for homeless, mentally ill but stresses that transit exists ‘for paying customers’

February 22, 2022 Jaime DeJesus
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In the wake of a rise in subway crime during the past year, Mayor Eric Adams, along with Gov. Kathy Hochul, went to the Fulton Street transit complex on Feb. 18 to announce the Subway Safety Plan, an initiative to help reduce crime and homelessness within the city’s transit system.

Transit crimes are up 65 percent this year compared to last year, according to official statistics.

The new plan includes pairing expanded outreach teams with NYPD officers and clinicians, and additional housing and mental health resources. It also outlines long-term system improvements through changes to state and federal laws to connect more New Yorkers to the care they need.

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At the same time, however, the plan makes it clear that “if New Yorkers are not traveling, they should not be in the subway system.” An official statement about the plan emphasized that “our subways exist to move paying customers

from one point to another. They are not meant to house individuals or provide

recreational space, and we will make it clear our stations and trains are not intended – or available – as an alternative.”

Interventions will take place at key transit hubs throughout the system as well as at “end of the line” system, the statement continued. “Individuals sleeping on trains or otherwise breaking MTA rules will be required to seek an alternative shelter. Efforts will focus on helping transport individuals in need of shelter to safe refuge.”

During the conference, Adams said that it is imperative that the city develop the right response with a combination of being humane and clear enforcement.

“The subway system and the bus system are the lifeblood of our city, and if we don’t get them right, our city won’t continue to recover from COVID,” he said. “ If [New Yorkers] are not safe and people don’t feel safe and the numbers of crime are not reflective of who or what we want to be as a city, it’s going to impact us.”

He added that many riders are deeply concerned, with some  telling him about their fear of using the system.

On Feb. 17 a homeless man stabbed a break dancer several times on the L train in Williamsburg.

“[That’s] a train I rode as a police officer and transit cop. We had a stabbing on that train and it sent shockwaves throughout the system,” he said. 

NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell stated that police and the public have to be partners and collaborate with other professionals, social service workers and clinicians to make this city safer. 

“The subway will be safe and the people who use it will have to be protected and the conditions that cause fear must be ameliorated,” she said. “Immediate action must be taken to address the crisis of mental health across this city. It will be done compassionately. We have to be innovative and we will be successful.”

She added that starting next week, the NYPD will join clinicians, social workers and other partners to link people to the services they desperately need. NYPD will canvass high-priority areas on the trains, inside stations and the end of certain lines, beginning with the A, E, 1, 2, N and R lines.

Mayor Eric Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul announce the new subway safety plan at the Fulton Street transfer station on Friday, Feb 18. Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“Trained people will look to assist those in need,” she added. “We will enforce transit rules when necessary but this is about helping all people. All people. We know through the skillful deployment and continued dedication of all our personnel, we will see crime reduction.”

Since the NYPD last month announced its plan to deploy additional uniformed police officers to conduct more frequent and regular sweeps of the subway system, there have been more than 115,000 station inspections by transit police and patrol officers citywide. Each day, they deploy an additional 1,000 police officers into the system to keep it safe.

Adams added that in the wake of the pandemic, the number of homeless people have increased substantially. 

“Many of them are here because of loss of jobs, uncertainty of where they are living, untreated medical crises and conditions, health challenges,” he said. “The vast majority of unhoused and mentally ill are not dangerous. But we have to be honest with the number of individuals who are dealing with mental health crises who are dangerous to themselves and New Yorkers.”

“No more smoking. No more doing drugs. No more sleeping. No more doing barbecues on the subway system. No more just doing whatever you want,” Adams added.

A man sits under a blanket on a bench in a New York subway station, on Jan. 28, 2014. New York Mayor Eric Adams is announcing a plan to boost safety in the city’s sprawling subway network and try to stop homeless people from sleeping on trains or living in stations. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

The plan lays out how the Adams administration, in partnership with the MTA and other state entities, will confront these challenges on our subways. Investments in people will provide immediate support and protection to New Yorkers, while investments in places like drop-in-centers, safe havens, stabilization beds and Street Homeless Outreach Wellness vans, as well as policy changes at local, state and federal levels, will provide medium- and long-term solutions.

“For too long, our mental health care system suffered from disinvestment, and the pandemic has only made things harder for New Yorkers with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelessness,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul. “I am proud to stand with Mayor Adams and share our efforts to boost mental health treatment services for those who lack stable housing and bring more psychiatric beds online.”

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