New York City Transportation authorities are asking the city to provide more police and more mental health assistance for the subway system, as assaults on trains and bus have risen by 13% so far in 2021.
“We have begged for help and we continue to need it,” said interim NYC Transit President Sara Feinberg.
“Right now, the city doesn’t let substance abuse or mental health specialists come into our system and help people. We are ground zero for folks who are having a mental health crisis,” she told the New York City Transportation Committee oversight hearing, CBS 2 reported.
There have been incidents of people being shoved onto subway tracks so far this year. Feinberg said that many of the attacks are perpetuated by mentally ill people hanging out in subway stations, and urged transit passengers to call 311 or 911.
As the coronavirus crisis gripped New York, many health programs that were the first to be cut, either to make room for more beds for coronavirus patients or because of economic woes, have been for people suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Those people often have no where to go but the streets, and many find temporary shelter in heated subway stations and on trains to avoid the cold weather.
“We’ll make sure we have the proper balance of officers deployed appropriately,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said, in response to MTA Chairman Pat Foye’s request for a more robust police presence in the transit system.
Two precincts are involved in a pilot program that would send mental health professionals to respond to a call involving someone who appears mentally unwell.
“We see the need for mental health and addiction services going up, and at the same time, we see the programs that offer these services decreasing because of budget cuts,” Matthew Shapiro, associate director of New York’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told CBS 2. “We need to have the services available for police to divert people to and to make sure these services are not letting people like that fall through the cracks.”