New York mayor says NYPD and first responders can unintentionally commit those in mental health crisis

New York

New York Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday ordered first responders to enforce a state law that allows them to potentially unintentionally commit people suffering a mental health crisis, as part of a bid to address concerns about homelessness and crime .

Adams said it was a myth that first responders could only unintentionally commit those who showed an “overt act” that they could be suicidal, violent, or a danger to others. Instead, she said the law has allowed first responders to involuntarily engage those who can’t meet their “basic human needs” — a lower bar.

New York Police Department officers and first responders will receive additional training to help them make those assessments, and a team of mental health technicians will be available, via a hotline or video chat, to help them determine whether a person should be taken to a hospital for further evaluation.

The city also plans to develop specialized response teams to work hand-in-hand with NYPD officers.

Adams said first responders have not been consistent enforce the law because they weren’t sure of its scope, reserving it only for cases that appeared more serious.

“Many officers feel uncomfortable using this authority when they have any doubt that the person in crisis meets the criteria,” Adams said Tuesday. “The hotline will allow an officer to describe what she is seeing to a clinical professional or even use video calls to get an expert opinion on what options may be available.”

New York state enacted a law in 2021 to allow first responders to involuntarily commit a person with a mental illness in need of immediate care.

The directive is the latest strategy aimed at gaining control over a mental health crisis that Adams has identified as a root cause of violence and crime in the city.

In January, Michelle Go was pushed in front of an arriving subway train in Times Square and killed by a man believed to be emotionally disturbed, according to city and NYPD officials.

In September, police arrested a mother who had drowned her three children in the waters off the famed Coney Island Boardwalk and later told investigators she had dreams of them in the water, law enforcement officials told CNN.

Mental health was one of the topics discussed in October, when Adams convened a two-day summit with city and state stakeholders as a way to get crime under control.

The directive has led to a mixed response from officials, who have recognized the challenges of treating the mentally ill properly and humanely.

“This is a long-standing and very complex issue,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement. “And we will continue to work closely with our many partners to ensure everyone has access to the services they need. This deserves the full support and attention of our collective efforts.”

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh in a statement said the department is “proud to partner with Mayor Adams in addressing this critical public safety issue. Our mission is simple: to be there for all New Yorkers when they need help and to provide critical mental health care.”

City officials have clarified that the directive allows for due process and that if a person has been assessed and found unfit to care for themselves, there are legal avenues they can take to combat that designation. Civil rights advocates say it’s not enough.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement called the move an “attempt to police the homeless and sweep people out of sight.”

“The mayor is playing fast and furious with New Yorkers’ legal rights and is not dedicating the necessary resources to address the mental health crises affecting our communities,” Lieberman said. “The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government’s ability to detain people with mental illnesses, limits that the mayor’s proposed expansion risks violating. Forcing people into treatment is a failing strategy for connecting people to treatment and long-term care.

New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams told CNN on Wednesday that he supports some of the mayor’s policies, but was concerned he was short on details about how to address long-term medical issues.

“New York City residents want to be safe and they want to be able to use the subway,” he said. “But if you ask them, they don’t want the police to arrest people for having a mental health crisis. They want people to receive care and a continuum of care. The problem with this plan is that it doesn’t explain what the continuum of care is.

Similarly, former NYPD Detective Andy Bershad has given mixed reviews, saying he is concerned about the training and potential consequences for NYPD officers.

“Are we looking at situations potentially where a situation goes wrong?” he said. “If I pick up a patient who doesn’t want to go or against his wishes, I’m now picking him up unintentionally, what are the consequences for the uniformed officer, the EMS provider?”

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