Pressure to saturate New York City’s subways with police officers last year was to make the system feel safer and discourage many people from using public transportation after a sequence of shocking crimes.
Months later, officials say the increased police presence has yielded some favorable results: Ridership is up and major crimes are falling since the initiative was ramped up in October.
But after the death of a homeless man on the subway last week by a passenger, a familiar debate has emerged about whether more police officers are the solution to subway violence, especially when they encounter mentally ill people.
The homeless man, Jordan Neely, 30, was yelling at riders in a train car when Daniel Penny, 24, put him in a chokehold and killed him. The murder has sparked outrage and divided the city’s leaders and public. Mayor Eric Adams has since been criticized not only for his response to Mr. Neely’s death, but also for the aggressiveness with which he has deployed law enforcement and targeted homeless people in the subway.
In addition to the political debate over using the police to help with social problems such as mental illness and homelessness, there is also the question of whether the mayor’s strategy is working, especially in a vast and dynamic system that officials completely control. Can’t monitor.
Have the mayor’s efforts reduced crime and made New Yorkers feel safer, as Mr. Adams and his supporters argue? Or have they scared and even endangered homeless people by reinforcing riders’ concerns about the mentally ill, as some of their critics have said – Mr Neely and Mr Penney Setting the stage for beach encounters? On Wednesday, Mr. Adams said in a speech, partly in response to those criticisms, that while he did not have control over the legal process, “one thing we can say for sure: Jordan Neely did not deserve to die.”
Like other large US cities, New York City has had to grapple with a confluence of problems posed by the pandemic, including rising housing prices and homelessness, unemployment and crime, and mental health issues, and how to resolve them. Political debate has intensified on this. Them.
After Mr. Adams took office, he announced plans to deploy a wave of police officers throughout the system. That same month, many subway users were upset by the death of Michelle Go, who was pushed in front of an R train by a homeless man police said had a history of crime and mental illness.
In October, after a sustained increase in violence in the subway, the state said it would help the city pay for an additional 1,200 overtime shifts per day so police officers could monitor the system.
“We can tell New Yorkers all the time that we’ve reduced crime in certain areas, but if New Yorkers don’t feel safe, then we’re failing,” Mr. Adams said at the time, “that’s why That the omnipresence of police officers and the removal of people struggling with mental health issues is critical to our second phase of this important plan.
In recent months, Metro officials have detained a significant number of people for breaking the law. Police statistics show that from January to March this year, there were about 3,000 arrests in the transit system, compared to 2,000 during the same period in 2022.
A representative for the police department said transit officers have conducted nearly 515,000 train and subway inspections so far this year, which is on track to exceed the nearly 750,000 inspections conducted during the first 10 months of last year.
“The NYPD continually evaluates emerging crime trends and redeploys personnel based on observed trends,” the representative said, noting that “the additional number of station inspections and train runs creates an ubiquity that Riders can look and feel great at all hours as they make their way to school, work, or home.”
Even after crime rates have increased during the pandemic, there is still a possibility that someone could be the victim of a violent crime while riding the subway, according to a New York Times analysis of MTA and police data.
So far this year, major felony crimes have decreased compared to the same period last year, although it is too early to know for sure whether the decline is statistically significant.
There are 10 murders in the system in 2022, compared to an average of two murders per year in the five years before the pandemic began. In 2023, the most recent available statistics show that there has been one homicide through March.
According to a spokeswoman for the police department, most of the roughly 10,000 calls for assistance the transit system has received from homeless people have been answered by police this year. In those cases most people accepted the endorsement and agreed to go to the homeless shelter. Another 1,200 required medical care and were taken to hospital.
The police department did not answer questions about how many officers, on average, work the system on a given day, or how many arrests or outreach efforts involve homeless or mentally ill people and how those numbers compare to previous years. Is.
Since Mr. Adams announced his first effort early last year to remove homeless people from the subway system, about 4,600 New Yorkers who experience homelessness in the transit system have reported, according to city officials. Checked in at a shelter. As of this week, about 1,300 of them remained in shelters.
Attempts to infringe on the rights of homeless people have also been criticized, especially after the mayor urged police officers and other responders last year to move people with serious untreated mental illnesses to hospitals if necessary. .
Encounters between police and the seriously mentally ill can end in tragedy when officers are not well equipped to deal with someone behaving erratically, partly because people in a state of psychosis often disobey orders. cannot follow. That’s why many advocates, experts and elected officials have urged the city to focus on solutions that are meant to help people cope with mental illness before it reaches a crisis.
New York executive director Donna Lieberman said, “The mayor’s insistence on controlling the needy instead of addressing the city’s housing crisis or lack of access to health care only fuels stigma against homeless New Yorkers and those suffering from mental illness.” ” The Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. “Arrests and forced hospitalizations do nothing to address the root drivers of homelessness or the chronic lack of access to mental health care.”
On Wednesday, the mayor gave a speech addressing Mr Neely’s death, saying he had called for improvements in the way mental illness has been addressed “since the very beginning of this administration”.
The mayor has pushed for several other initiatives to help mentally ill New Yorkers that do not involve police, including programs to connect people to community-based treatment and mental health professionals and paramedics to respond to 911 calls. There are programs of sending, in which people are involved. mental distress.
The city is also expanding the number of “intensive mobile treatment” teams that respond to people with mental illness or substance abuse issues living in shelters, the streets and subways, and who provide a range of services to them. Teams typically do not force clients to accept care or shelter, but spend weeks and often months trying to connect them with help. They will soon be serving nearly 1,000 New Yorkers with some of the greatest needs.
And last October, the state said it would set up two new units, including 50 inpatient beds, at psychiatric centers to take in people with serious mental illnesses.
Following Mr Neely’s killing, many New Yorkers have called for more such investments to help some of the city’s most vulnerable, rather than more law enforcement.
“We understand that our current times have heightened feelings of fear (sometimes justified, sometimes not),” Lennon Edwards and Donette Mills, lawyers for Mr Neely’s family, said in a statement last week.
But, he added, “commuters are not expected to die on the floors of our subways.”
hurubi mako And maria kramer Contributed reporting.