NYC PUBLIC ADVOCATE RELEASES NEW REVIEW OF CITY’S PROGRESS ON MENTAL HEALTH RESPONSE AND PUBLIC SAFETY
Nov. 18, 2022
Three years after his office put forth a roadmap to reform for the city’s approach to mental health crises response and support systems, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today released a review of the city’s progress toward meeting this issue, the areas in which it has moved backward, and new recommendations to meet the current moment.
As was made starkly clear on Election Day, public safety has been a top concern for New Yorkers, and mental health is a critical component of public safety. Rather than dismissing the issue or accepting misleading, disingenuous, arguments about public safety, it is vital to envision and enact policies which actually address the roots of public safety, including mental health. For New Yorkers to both be safe and feel safe, it’s vital to treat mental crises as a public health issue, and respond as such, rather than a criminal issue with a law enforcement response.
“Public safety is not a political talking point to be weaponized, and mental health crises are not to be demonized – these are issues that demand real, informed solutions. In the three years since our office proposed a new model for mental health crisis response, we have elected new leaders on all levels of government, but progress on this issue has been frustratingly slow – in some ways, we have gone backwards,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “The impacts of the pandemic on both our individual and collective mental health, the trauma incurred, have only heightened the need for systemic reform to holistically address this crisis as an issue of health, rather than simply law enforcement. Since 2019, the list of names lost to inadequate mental health infrastructure has only grown. It is our responsibility now to realize the reforms needed and the urgency of action, to prevent more suffering and loss.”
The new review, Improving New York City’s Responses to Individuals in Mental Health Crisis: 2022, finds that while New York has made progress in some areas since 2019 in line with the Public Advocate’s recommendations, in others it has remained stagnant and even gone backward. The updated report opens with a letter to Mayor Eric Adams lamenting that “In the three years since our initial report, that urgency has not been evident in the actions taken by the administration. While some progress has been made in line with our office’s recommendations, the prior administration was unwilling to more fully embrace the kind of changes our city needs.”
The Public Advocate’s original 2019 report investigated and analyzed how New York City responds to, supports, and treats individuals experiencing acute mental distress. In many cases, rather than realizing these recommendations and reforming public safety systems, city and state governments have repeatedly prioritized law enforcement in these interactions, often without proper training and sometimes with deadly consequences.
For example, the review found that instead of increasing respite centers, vital spaces for people experiencing mental health crises, the number of centers in the city has been cut in half.
Fortunately, following the original report, the city did expand its number of drop-In centers, multi-service facilities for unhoused New Yorkers that provide a variety of services including food, social workers, and referrals to additional programs. They also opened two mental health urgent care centers following our office’s recommendations, and invested in expanding safe havens. Still, currently, there are only four respite centers, two mental health urgent care centers; and seven drop-in centers to serve over eight million New Yorkers.
Additionally, while the city has explored some initiatives for non-police response to mental health crises, it has not approached the essential investment of resources, infrastructural support, or leadership buy-in to these programs. There are fewer Mobile Crisis Teams now than in 2019, officers are still not provided with sufficient Crisis Intervention Training, and far, far too often, police are still being dispatched as the default response to mental health emergencies.
As a result of this review, and assessing the current situation on the ground, the Public Advocate’s office is now releasing these additional, updated recommendations, in line with the principles of the original report.
These new recommendations include:
- Expand the hours of operation for Mobile Crisis Teams and implement a shorter direct-line phone number for New Yorkers to call.
- Create and implement a non-police number for individuals in crisis that does not involve law enforcement.
- Administer standardized mental health screenings annually for all New York City public school students.
- Train all NYPD officers who interact with the public in Crisis Intervention Training.
- Fill, fund, and build supportive housing so that unhoused individuals have a pathway towards permanent housing while maintaining access to wraparound services.
This is a new moment of urgency for action toward what works, not what fits into a narrative or preconceived notion of public safety. As the Public Advocate urges the Adams administration in his letter, “Time has passed, but the moment for action, the moral mandate for reform, is ongoing. It is my hope that you, your administration, our partners in government, and New Yorkers review both our original recommendations and this new assessment, and use it as a framework for a renewed commitment to mental health support in our city … This ‘past and present’ review is most effective only if it provides a path toward the future.”
Read the review and original report here.
“With 19 people having died at the hands of the NYPD when experiencing a mental health crisis in the last seven years alone – 16 of them persons of color – it is high time for the City to transform its response to mental health crises by removing the police. We laud the Public Advocate for his newly-released report calling for a healthcare response, not a police response, and strongly advocating for increased voluntary mental health services for all New Yorkers in need,” said Ruth Lowenkron, Esq., Director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and a long-time member of the steering committee of Correct Crisis Intervention Today – NYC (CCIT-NYC).”
“For too long, New York City has allowed police officers to be the de facto answer to non-criminal matters. It is not enough to simply train police officers in CIT or expand B-HEARD. We need to revise our approach, elevate the role of peers (people with lived mental health experiences) to first responders, triage mental health crisis response teams through 988 rather than 911, and create policies that support people in recovery on their terms,” said Jordyn Rosenthal, advocacy coordinator at Community Access and steering committee member of CCIT-NYC.