The mayor of New York Municipal recently announced that he was ordering police and city medics to be more aggressive in their efforts to remove seriously mentally ill individuals off the streets and subways and into treatment, even if doing so requires forcing some people who refuse care into hospitals.
Mayor Eric Adams noted the persistent issue of mental illness has long been in the open, saying, “These New Yorkers and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need of treatment, yet often refuse it when offered.”
The mayor said that there is, “No more walking by or looking away,” he calls it a “moral obligation to act.”
The mayor’s order represents the most recent effort to diffuse a situation that has been building for decades. It would empower outreach staff, city hospitals, and first responders, including police, the freedom to forcefully admit anybody they believe to be a threat to themselves or incapable of caring for themselves to the hospital.
“The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking. They cycle in and out of hospitals and jails.”
Adams called it a “myth” that a person had to be acting in an “outrageously dangerous” or suicidal manner before a police officer or medical professional could intervene. State law normally restricts the capacity of authorities to compel someone into treatment unless they are a risk to themselves.
Some human rights organizations and those who support the homeless have criticized the mayor’s move as being foolish.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union remarked, “the Mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities,” said
“Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care.”
The Mayor’s Plan was also criticized by the Coalition for the Homeless, which said that the city should concentrate on increasing access to voluntary mental care.
Jacquelyn Simone, the coalition’s executive director stated, “Mayor Adams continues to get it wrong when it comes to his reliance on ineffective surveillance, policing, and involuntary transport and treatment of people with mental illness.”
Even if some are still hesitant about how police will ultimately handle the mentally ill, other organizations accepted the mayor’s advances.
An attorney who re the presents mental health unit of the Legal Aid Society, Jeffrey Berman shared, “ We agree with the spirit of Mayor Adams address, which, you know, very much centers around confronting this human problem with compassion and sensitivity.”
“We need fixes within the criminal legal system so that those people who do end up arrested can find a way out with treatment and support in the community and a road to real recovery and not jail,” he added.
The Legal Aid Society and a number of community-based defense organizations agreed that the mayor was right to point out “decades of dysfunction” in mental health care. They claimed that politicians in the state “must no longer ‘punt’” in addressing the epidemic and passing legislation that would provide mental health patients with therapy rather than jail time.
Legislation to expand mental health patient diversion programs is being considered by state lawmakers; public defender organizations favor this idea.
Adams has campaigned for a wider application of “Kendra’s Law,” which was passed in 1999 and enables judges to require mentally ill prisoners to finish their treatment.
Kendra Webdale, who passed away after being pushed over the subway rails by a man with a history of mental illness, inspired the law’s name.
Just days after taking office, a New York lady was thrown into the path of an approaching train, raising public worries about random attacks by persons dealing with mental illness and the homeless. Adams was immediately drawn into the city’s mental health issue.
The mayor promised to increase outreach teams and soon after unveiled a strategy for subway safety. The strategy was criticized for being a crackdown on the mentally ill and the homeless.
The mayor announced that he has started sending groups of medical professionals and police officers to guard the busiest metro stops. To assist them in providing “compassionate care” in circumstances that would need the forcible removal of a person displaying indications of mental illness in public settings, the city was also providing training to police officers and other first responders.
“It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past,” Adams noted.
A spokesman for New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the city’s proposal builds on cooperative efforts to expand outreach teams in subways and enhance capacity at mental facilities.