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NYC Public Advocate Chides City for Lagging Mental Health Response

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said last month that mental illness was the primary reason crime is up in the city's subways. Yet when the city this month cut spending to close a looming multibillion-dollar budget deficit, its cuts included $12 million from a program that sends teams of mental health professionals to certain emergencies in place of the police. That decision fits a pattern decried by the city's public advocate, Jumaane Williams, in a new report finding that the city's responses to mental illness have lagged on a number of fronts, the New York Times reports.

Adams made fighting crime and boosting policing major campaign issues last year, to the consternation of the political left, and critics blame his pronouncements on crime for Democrats' struggles in this month's midterm and New York governor elections. But Adams has not ignored the city's mental health crisis or its potential effect on public safety. In October, he and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a broad plan calling for 1,200 additional overtime officer shifts each day on the subway, two new “transition to home” units for street and subway homeless with severe mental illnesses, and two new dedicated 25-bed units at psychiatric centers. But the report by Williams, an unsuccessful candidate for governor earlier this year, found that since 2019, when his office issued a similar warning, the number of mental health crisis centers has declined by half, while the number of mobile mental crisis response teams has also fallen. The report found that police officers are not receiving sufficient mental crisis response training, yet are still the main option in responding to mental health emergencies. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Adams, said the administration agreed that “much work remains to support our most vulnerable and keep all New Yorkers safe,” noting the public advocate’s recognition that $171 million had been spent on housing and health services for mentally troubled New Yorkers lacking shelter.


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