mayor eric adams NYC
© Daniel William McKnight
Mayor Eric Adams dramatically expanded the city's ability to involuntarily commit New Yorkers with chronic and untreated mental illness.
Following a string of horrifying subway attacks, Mayor Eric Adams dramatically expanded the city's ability to involuntarily commit New Yorkers with chronic and untreated mental illness.

City workers can now immediately hospitalize people who refuse treatment, even if they don't pose a clear and present danger to themselves or others.

Hizzoner's Tuesday announcement at City Hall is the latest effort launched by city and state officials in recent months to coax and cajole New Yorkers living on city streets and in subways — many of whom are suffering from apparent psychosis — into the city's shelter and mental health safety net systems.

"If severe mental illness is causing someone to be unsheltered and a danger to themselves, we have a moral obligation to help them get the treatment and care they need," Adams said in a morning address televised across the five boroughs.

"Today, we are embarking on a long-term strategy to help more of those suffering from severe and untreated mental illness find their way to treatment and recovery."

Before Tuesday's announcement, city workers and hospital staff were trained to limit the involuntary commitment program — known as Kendra's Law — to just those who presented an imminent threat to not only themselves, but also to the general public.

However, City Hall's lawyers say that guidance issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul's Office of Mental Health in February provides a more expansive set of criteria that qualify for commitment — including an apparent inability to care for oneself — which they are now whole-heartedly embracing.

The mayor said that expanded guidelines will be provided to police officers, social workers and mental health treatment teams, all of whom will be retrained under the new directive.

"There is often a misconception amongst both police as well as front-line mental health crisis intervention workers that a person with mental illness must present as "imminently dangerous" in order to be removed from the community," Adams declared. "This is not the case."

Additionally, the city said it would deploy a new hotline to provide frontline city staff with quick answers if they are unsure if the apparently mentally ill person they encountered should be taken to the hospital.

Adams also said that he will seek changes to state law that require more extensive mental health screenings at hospitals for New Yorkers brought in suffering from apparent untreated mental illness and to relax standards under which they can be required to receive inpatient treatment.

Council member Bob Holden (D-Queens) hailed Adams "for understanding the severity of this problem and his courage in tackling it head-on."

"There are ticking time bombs — who are a threat to themselves or others — riding our subways and walking our streets," he said. "Let's get these New Yorkers the help they desperately need and deserve and make our streets and subways safer for all."

NYPD Sgt. Joe Imperatrice, founder of Blue Lives Matter NYC, also said Adams "is taking the initiative to correct an issue that has been overlooked for a long time."

"The homeless and mental health crisis is a humanitarian issue," he said. "We as a society have an obligation to help those that need it most and not allow other human beings to rot away on city sidewalks and inside subway stations. Our tax dollars need to be used in an optimal way and I believe this is a step in the right direction."

At the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue subway station in Queens, several riders also supported Adams' plan.

"If this mayor really removes them from the subway, it's a great job. A really great job," bartender Mohammed Bari said.

A man who gave his name as Frank S. also said, "The mentally ill is who scare people out here."

"But I grew up in the '70s and this is like the '70s again. Watch your ass and keep it moving," he added.

A subway conductor said he was "not too happy" that homeless people were allowed to live on the trains.

"They are very unsafe. They are a danger to themselves and everyone around them," he said.

The Legal Aid Society, which has been one of Adams' harshest critics, seemingly embraced Hizzoner's new plan following his City Hall address.

"We appreciate Mayor Adams holding this address to bring further attention to the mental health crisis facing so many New Yorkers, many of whom include the people we represent," the nonprofit group said in a statement.

But the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Donna Lieberman, accused Adams of "playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers."

"The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government's ability to detain people experiencing mental illness - limits that the mayor's proposed expansion is likely to violate," she said.

The chair of the city council's General Welfare Committee also said,

"The police involvement concerns me...because they're not trained, mental health professionals."

"Police officers should not — and quite frankly — do not want to be part of these mental health decisions," Council member Diana Alaya (D-The Bronx/East Harlem) said. "Picking people up off the street and dragging them into the hospital based on a non-professional's assessment scares me."

One of the most prominent subway attacks, the fatal shoving of Michelle Go in the Times Square station, was allegedly committed by a man deemed unfit to stand trial because of his untreated psychosis.

The accused killer of FDNY Lt. Alison Russo-Elling — who was stabbed about 20 times in an unprovoked, Sept. 29 attack while on her lunch break — also has a history of mental illness and was taken to a hospital after making anti-Asian threats online, sources have said.

Following an Oct. 20 attack with a wooden sword sheath by a man dressed as a ninja in Manhattan's Chambers Street station, Adams said the majority of crimes underground were being "driven by people with mental health issues."

"If you got a ninja outfit on and you are running around with a sword, then something is wrong," Hizzoner said at the time.