NYPD officers and first responders can now commit those undergoing mental health crises involuntarily, according to a new law addressing homelessness and crime.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said the law allows first responders to commit a person to a psychiatric ward or hospital — even against their own will — if they cannot meet their “basic human needs.”
Prior to the 2021 legislation, individuals could only be involuntarily committed if they were deemed suicidal, violent or a danger to others.
Mayor Adams said that officers would be able to work with clinical professionals to determine when a person should be committed. If they decide to take that route, they can then forcibly transport that person to a hospital to receive an evaluation and treatment.
“It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past,” Adams said of the policy.
Although the mayor admitted that officers had misgivings about the new rules, he assured them that they would be supported by mental health professionals along the way.
“Many officers feel uneasy using this authority when they have any doubt that the person in crisis meets the criteria,” Adams said. “The hotline will allow an officer to describe what they are seeing to a clinical professional or even use video calling to get an expert opinion on what options may be available.”
Adams also said new training would be available for NYPD officers and first responders to guide them in such evaluations.
Proponents of the law say it allows police to get a handle on the homeless and mental health crisis that are underlying causes of crime in the city.
“This is a longstanding and very complex issue,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. “And we will continue to work closely with our many partners to ensure that everyone has access to the services they require. This deserves the full support and attention of our collective efforts.”
FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh also supported the policy.
In a statement, Kavanagh said she was “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 provide critical mental health care.”
Others had mixed views about the legislation.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the law is an “attempt to police away homelessness and sweep individuals out of sight.”
“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,” Lieberman said.
Liberman also said the law violates state and federal constitutional rights.
“Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care,” she concluded.
Former NYPD detective Andy Bershad was also concerned about the risk to officers carrying out the policy.
“Are we looking at situations potentially when a situation goes badly?” he questioned. “If I go to take a patient that doesn’t want to go or against their will, now I’m taking them involuntarily, what is the ramifications for the uniformed officer, EMS provider?”
Another potential problem facing the mayor’s plan has to do with basic resources.
Under the new law, hospitals have to make sure patients are in stable condition and must formulate a treatment plan before discharging them.
However, in the past, hospitals have discharged patients due to a lack of psychiatric beds.
The city currently has over 400 psychiatric beds leftover from the pandemic and the state has provided only 50 empty beds.
“We need beds,” Adams said. “There’s no getting around that — we need beds.”