Video of two NYPD officers dragging and handcuffing a man at the 8th Ave L train station Monday underscores concerns about Mayor Eric Adams’ new plan to send more cops into the subways, advocates say. And an accompanying initiative to have state-funded social service workers conduct outreach in lieu of police won’t roll out until spring.
Six days into his tenure Thursday, New York City’s new mayor joined forces with Gov. Kathy Hochul to outline a familiar response to concerns about homelessness on the subways: a wave of cops to help riders feel safe underground.
To homeless New Yorkers and their advocates, the strategy sounded a lot like decisions by past governors and mayors to step up patrols and clear people off the trains and platforms. But Mayor Eric Adams, a former transit cop, said this plan would be different. Officers, he said, will “communicate with our outreach workers so they can respond—not to have the officers engage, unless there is some criminal activity taking place that needs immediate attention.”
“It’s about building trust,” Adams added.
That message did not appear to reach two officers patrolling the 8th Avenue L train station just before 1 a.m. Monday.
A cell phone video shared with City Limits shows the officers flanking a man as he sits on the steps leading to the train platform with their hands on his shoulder and wrists. The man can be heard yelling “No” before officers attempt to place handcuffs on his left wrist. As the man continued to scream and wriggle out of the officers’ grip, the two cops dragged him to the platform, pulled his arms behind his back and cuffed him.
Video of 2 officers dragging & cuffing a man at the 8th Ave L train station just before 1 am Monday underscores concerns about @NYCMayor‘s new plan to send more cops into the subways, advocates say— David Brand (@DavidFBrand) January 12, 2022
🎥 by @shift_in2_turbo
Story at @CityLimitsNews https://t.co/jSpFV6DuVA pic.twitter.com/1P0MAurkxv
Though it is unclear whether the man was homeless, the encounter underscores the criticism among unhoused New Yorkers and advocates who say Adams’ plan to direct more cops into the trains will result in aggressive interactions without connecting people in need to appropriate services, shelter or housing.
“This was just a few days after the big press conference that the mayor and governor had about how they were changing how the city did homeless outreach,” said Karim Walker, a formerly homeless New Yorker who filmed the encounter after happening upon the scene. “There were no outreach teams in sight.”
Walker, an advocate with the group Human.nyc, questioned why the officers decided to move the man at all. “He looked like he was calm. He didn’t appear to be violent,” Walker said. “The police were the ones who escalated it.”
An NYPD spokesperson said officers were attempting to escort the man, 54, up the stairs and handcuffed him after he became “combative.” The officers did not arrest the man and instead took him to Beth Israel Hospital for evaluation, the spokesperson said.
The officers did not wait for an outreach team, as Adams had described, though they could have contacted teams from Bowery Resident Committee (BRC), which contracts with the city to conduct outreach in the transit system. Five other agencies contract with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to do outreach aboveground in New York City.
Adams’ office did not immediately respond to questions about the video, which City Limits shared with them prior to publishing this story.
At the press conference last Thursday, Adams and Hochul touted a corresponding plan to reinforce existing outreach teams. Five state-funded “Safe Option Support” (SOS) teams, each staffed by eight to 10 social service workers, will eventually canvas the trains and refer unsheltered New Yorkers to city-run services, Hochul said.
“We’re going to get them the support they need, get them into shelter and ultimately into housing,” she said. “We need to have a multifaceted approach.”
But the new outreach teams will not begin work until late spring, a spokesperson for the state’s Office of Mental Health (OMH) said Friday. That leaves a potential six-month gap between Adams’ policing plan and the beefed-up mental health component he and Hochul discussed.
Hochul and OMH have not yet described what new services the state outreach teams will add when they are up and running.
Following the press conference, Adams’ office directed questions about the months-long gap to the governor. The governor’s office deferred to OMH. The OMH spokesperson, James Plastiras, said the agency is not concerned about a lack of outreach teams because the state already funds nonprofit providers to connect street homeless New Yorkers with shelter and mental health services.
The two leaders are rolling out their policing plan, and the related social service pledge, while subway ridership is at roughly 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, Hochul said. An April 2021 survey conducted by the MTA found that about a third of New Yorkers who stopped using the subway since the start of the COVID crisis cited fear of crime as the main deterrent.
While overall crime is down in the transit system, the rate of violent crimes per 1 million weekday riders has spiked compared to 2019, the New York Times reported. There is also a perception of danger, fueled by mayoral candidates in the lead up to last year’s election and by one of Hochul’s main rivals in the June primary.
“If we don’t make people feel safe I’m not going to be able to attract them back here,” Hochul said. “That is not sustainable for New York City.”
But violent crime and homelessness are not synonymous. And people who choose to sleep on the trains and platforms say they do so because the subways are a safer, warmer option than the outdoors. Unsheltered New Yorkers interviewed by City Limits consistently say that they do not want to enter group shelters and instead want private rooms with a path to permanent housing.
READ MORE: Tracking the Number of People in NYC Homeless Shelters in 2022
On Jan. 7, the first significant snowfall of the year and a day after Adams and Hochul’s press conference, Latisha Patterson, 38, sat on a flattened cardboard box on the floor of the Queens-bound E train platform at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue. She said she had slept there for the past four days and described her desire for a private or semi-private space, after getting bullied and robbed inside group shelters.Despite her negative past experiences, Patterson said she nearly visited an intake shelter the night before. She decided against it because she heard COVID-19 was surging inside group facilities, she said.
“I don’t want to be there because of the virus,” she said. “I want my own room.”
New York City has expanded the number of rooms specifically set aside for New Yorkers bedding down in public spaces. Over the past two years, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), which did not respond to requests for comment on Adams’ policing and Hochul’s outreach plans, has opened hundreds of new SafeHaven and stabilization beds, which have no curfew and fewer restrictions than its traditional shelters.
Data compiled by Human.nyc last year found that DHS’s strategy of opening new stabilization beds in private hotel rooms worked to encourage more New Yorkers to move off the subways and sidewalks and stay in shelter.
The group’s director, Josh Dean, said simply sending new outreach teams to the subway system could lead to confusion for clients who often only agree to move into shelters after developing longer-term relationships with consistent workers. Police moving people from familiar spaces where outreach teams know where to find them won’t help either, he said.
He pointed to an array of service organizations, advocates and homeless New Yorkers who have spoken out against the immediate policing plan, and questioned the pending outreach strategy. He likened the latest approach to ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to close subways to lock out homeless New Yorkers at the start of the pandemic, and former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s move to send roughly 750 more cops to the trains over the past two years.
“The fact that all advocates are responding with a sense of concern kind of speaks to the idea that we’ve been through this before,” Dean said.
He urged Hochul to instead direct more funding to additional housing or private shelter options for street homeless New Yorkers, a responsibility that has fallen disproportionately on the city.
“Why not take the resources you’re investing in this and invest it in supporting the outreach teams that already exist, and adding more housing and more beds that people say they want,” he added. “That would be a better use of time, energy and resources.”
New beds for street homeless New Yorkers could be on the way as part of Hochul’s outreach plan. The state will get unsheltered residents the “support they need, get them into shelter, and ultimately into housing,” she said Jan. 6. Subway outreach is the “tip of the iceberg,” she added, before referencing a five-year plan to create or preserve affordable housing.
Still, said Homeless Services United Executive Director Catherine Trapani, it remains to be seen what other services the state funds in addition to the outreach teams.
“What new value will these teams add in terms of placement opportunities?” Trapani said. “Are they going to fund new SafeHaven beds? Are there resources or real estate that the state can come up with to help us identify new opportunities?”
“That would be promising,” she added.