Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/393 Tue, 17 Sep 2019 23:33:02 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio’s Promised ‘Comprehensive Strategy’ for City Response to People in Mental Health Crisis is Well Behind Schedule https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8754-de-blasio-s-promised-comprehensive-strategy-for-city-response-to-people-in-mental-health-crisis-is-well-behind-schedule https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8754-de-blasio-s-promised-comprehensive-strategy-for-city-response-to-people-in-mental-health-crisis-is-well-behind-schedule ca nyc mental

Community Access members rally at City Hall (photo: @ca_nyc)


A task force empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio to recommend how city government, particularly the police department, can better respond to emotionally disturbed people in crisis has yet to release its report, about 10 months after its work was to be concluded.

Calls from community leaders and activists have grown, but the “NYC Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force” remains largely silent, leading advocates and elected officials to wonder why the issue isn’t a higher priority for a city that has seen 14 mentally ill people killed by police officers in “EDP” calls since Crisis Intervention Training began in 2015.

It was created on April 19, 2018 by the mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the administration’s mental health programming, in order to look at how New York City cares for emotionally disturbed people, who are often people diagnosed with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, when they are experiencing a crisis moment like exhibiting violent or erratic behavior.

The release said it would be “a 180 day effort.” If true that would have landed its conclusion at mid-October of last year. With a couple months for internal consideration and publication of next steps, advocates, elected officials, and service-providers expected something from City Hall at the start of this year. As September approaches, there have been no signs of the task force’s final recommendations or a plan from the de Blasio administration.

“At the end of 180 days, the City will announce a citywide strategy to improve NYC’s mental health crisis system,” the press release said.

In that April 2018 press release announcing the task force, there were four stated goals: “prevent mental health crises before they happen”; “enhance coordination between the city’s safety and health systems”; “enhance ongoing support to reduce mental health crises over the long-term”; and “share data across systems to refine approach over time.”

“As a City, we have completely overhauled how we address mental health to shatter stigma and increase access to care,” de Blasio said in the release. “Now, we must do the same for when a New Yorker is at risk of experiencing a mental health crisis. I’ve charged this Task Force with developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent these situations from escalating and enhance the City’s crisis response system. These recommendations will keep our neighborhoods and our most vulnerable New Yorkers safe.”

The task force was to be chaired by top City Hall officials, with McCray as an “honorary co-chair,” and the work led by the Police Department and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, with involvement from a variety of other city agencies and offices.

The working groups of the task force, which included around 75-80 people from a broad swath of organizations that have some involvement with people’s mental illness and/or policing, submitted recommendations to the task force’s advisory group in January. The advisory group included city leaders like NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, now executive director of ThriveNYC Susan Herman, various deputy mayors, and others.

Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) was designed to give police officers better tools to de-escalate situations involving emotionally disturbed people. Over the past ten years, police officers have been forced to handle these situations more and more. According to a report by THE CITY, EDP calls to 911 have risen dramatically since 2009, from 97,000 to nearly 180,000 in 2018.

When someone calls 911 about a person in emotional or psychological crisis, the current NYPD response consists of sending police officers and Emergency Medical Services, but critics say this protocol falls well short in ensuring safety and care, as evidenced by the 14 deaths over the last four-plus years. Currently, the city focuses more on preventing crisis than what to do during a crisis, which is in part what this task force was created to address.

"The Task Force was very much centered on prevention, as well as ensuring that, post-crisis, people are connected to care and their life stabilizes in such a way that they are less likely to be in an emergency situation in the future," Herman, now of ThriveNYC and formerly of the NYPD, told Gotham Gazette. During the August 6 interview, Herman said the task force's report is expected within about a month but did not provide any specifics. 

ThriveNYC, McCray’s mental health “roadmap” programming, utilizes two major options to prevent a mentally ill person from reaching a crisis point. First, Thrive funds about six co-response teams a day. The co-response teams are a proactive intervention for people who neighbors, bystanders, local service providers, or police believe may be demonstrating escalating tendencies towards violence. The co-response teams -- consisting of two police officers and a medical clinician -- can find that person and connect them to care and appear successful: 82% of the people co-response teams attempt to engage are successfully connected or re-connected to care or another stabilizing support such as housing or family.

Second, the city operates Health Engagement and Assessment Teams (HEAT) teams which are a health help-only response in that they don’t involve police officers. HEAT teams are called by police, or local agencies such as the Department of Homeless Services. Thrive also operates various ACT teams, which provide mobile outpatient care to those with mental illness but are not designed to respond to crises.

One recommendation by mental health advocates would make the co-response teams a 911 response. For example, when someone calls 911 regarding a mentally ill person in the midst of a crisis, 911 operators could send a clinician with a police officer to handle the situation.

"When someone is thought to be mentally ill,” said Herman, “and has already demonstrated escalating levels of violence, co-response Teams of police and clinicians can provide an important intervention. Currently, co-response teams do not respond directly to 911 calls. These teams are a proactive intervention when homeless services, police, probation, or a local clinic or social services provider has said someone is mentally ill and they worry they are getting increasingly violent. This is an intervention to avert a crisis, not to end an emergency.”

CIT training has been slow to wind its way through the NYPD. According to that same report by The CITY, as of this past March, 11,970 of the NYPD’s nearly 36,753 officers have received Crisis Intervention Training.

However, some advocates like Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator of the nonprofit Community Access, don’t think training every NYPD officer is enough: they don’t want police officers involved in EDP calls at all.

“One of our main concerns,” she told Gotham Gazette, “is that we don’t want the police responding anymore, there have just been too many incidents. We don’t feel it’s right for the police, not fair to them, it’s not fair to the families to only be able to call the police. It’s scary for families, they don’t want to call the police. They want an alternative. They want someone to come who is going to take care of their health care, not who is going to force them to the ground.”

“It’s like sending in a mechanic to do what a heart surgeon should do. You want people who know how to de-escalate, who are very familiar with mental health…you don’t want militarized force. It’s not the response.”

Another change Community Access is calling for is a non-911 number to call for people in crisis. That number could effectively take police out of the equation altogether. ThriveNYC currently operates NYC Well, a mental health tele-helpline that people with any type of mental health issue can call to talk to somebody or get connected to care. NYC Well currently has the ability to dispatch mobile crisis teams, or police with Emergency Medical Services.

No matter what the task force recommends, Rabinowitz of Community Access, which was part of the working groups, doesn’t think enough mental health “peers” were involved in the process.

“There were a lot of people on this task force, and we credit the mayor for creating this task force, the problem is…we still haven’t seen the recommendations yet,” said Rabinowitz. “And the thing we’re concerned about is on the task force there weren’t that many people with lived experience, what we call ‘peers.’ And the task force was trying to help people who were encountering the police who were mental health recipients.”

Herman disputed the criticism: "Peers played a critical role in the Task Force, as did community advocates. We have had several separate meetings with community advocates as well. There was also a Task Force subcommittee on community engagement."

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has been an outspoken critic of the city’s response to EDP calls. In a rally hosted by Community Access on the steps of City Hall in April of this year to mourn the one-year anniversary of both the creation of the task force that had not yet produced results and the death of Saheed Vassell, a 34-year-old mentally ill man killed by police officers, which sparked the creation of the task force, Williams said, “When it comes to issues of policing, transparency, accountability, when it comes to how emotionally disturbed persons are dealt with in this city, from the beginning to when police are called to try to fix all the problems, it is this mayor and this administration that has the accountability and the successes, and unfortunately mostly failures. He has to be held accountable.”

“When loved ones call for assistance, their loved ones need not be killed by officers who are improperly trained and do not have the tools and are not equipped to deal with medical emergencies. We are failing everyone in this system and I blame it now in totality on this administration.”

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio’s Promised ‘Comprehensive Strategy’ for City Response to People in Mental Health Crisis is Well Behind Schedule Thu, 22 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Help People with Mental Illness: Make Kendra’s Law Permanent https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7720-help-people-with-mental-illness-make-kendra-s-law-permanent https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7720-help-people-with-mental-illness-make-kendra-s-law-permanent dj kendra law

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


As the state legislative session comes to a close, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Assembly Mental Health Committee chair Aileen Gunther have still not made New York’s most effective mental illness law permanent or closed loopholes in it. Their inaction is cruel to people suffering from mental illness and unsafe for the public.

Kendra’s Law allows judges to order a subset of those with the most serious mental illness -- those who have a proven history of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization or violence that was caused by stopping their treatments -- to accept one year of outpatient treatment. Being court ordered to accept treatment, which often includes medications, lowers homelessness, hospitalization, arrest, and incarceration among people with serious mental illness by 70%.

Patients in the court-ordered treatment programs continue to live with their families and friends in their communities, making it less restrictive than the alternatives, inpatient commitment or incarceration. By reducing the use of hospitals and jails it saves taxpayers 50% of the cost of care. Many more people with serious mental illness and a history of hospitalization, arrest, incarceration, or violence should be court-ordered to participate in Kendra’s Law programs.

Kendra’s Law requires the community mental health programs to serve those with serious illnesses who are under court orders, rather than always picking and choosing who they serve. As I documented in Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill, trade associations like the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) and Mental Health America (MHA) object to it. Some of their members want to continue to receive state funds without any obligation to serve those with the most serious illnesses.

Cuomo, Heastie, and Gunther, have decided to side with these trade associations by refusing to make Kendra’s Law permanent or closing the loopholes in it. That puts patients, the public, and first responders, including police officers, at risk of random acts of violence by those with serious mental illness who go untreated and inhibits efforts to reduce homelessness and needless hospitalizations.

Because as written Kendra’s Law expires every five years, and risks not being renewed, community programs that do support helping those with the most serious mental illness are reluctant to commit to hiring the staff needed to get court orders and provide ongoing monitoring of patients. The monitoring ensures those with serious mental illness under Kendra’s Law are complying with treatment, including their medications.

Heastie and Gunther should ensure the Assembly passes the Kendra’s Law improvement bill proposed by Senator Catharine Young that passed the state Senate, and Governor Cuomo should sign it into law. Kendra’s Law is supported by groups as diverse as the NYS chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. The bill is even more important during a time that the state is continuing its relentless push to close state psychiatric hospitals, the last refuge for many of those with the most serious mental illness.

In Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech, he talked compassionately about those with mental illness who are homeless. “Leaving a sick person to fend for themselves is not progressive, charitable, ethical or legal...It is our obligation as a caring people, a compassionate society, to reach out and provide whatever social services or address whatever needs the individuals presents." He went on to ask localities to “tell us what law stops them from helping mentally ill street homeless and we will change the law this session."

Kendra’s Law is that law that needs changing. It needs loopholes closed and permanence. Cuomo, Heastie, and Gunther should do that now, before the next tragedy.

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DJ Jaffe is author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill and Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org, a non-partisan think-tank on mental illness policy.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Help People with Mental Illness: Make Kendra’s Law Permanent Wed, 13 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Bills Seek to Examine NYPD Interactions with ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons,’ Prevent Tragedies https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7375-bills-seek-to-examine-nypd-interactions-with-emotionally-disturbed-persons-prevent-tragedies https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7375-bills-seek-to-examine-nypd-interactions-with-emotionally-disturbed-persons-prevent-tragedies 24223125478 fee7e18056 z

photo via The Mayor's Office


In September, the City Council called a hearing to scrutinize the New York Police Department’s response in cases involving “emotionally disturbed persons” (EDPs). There had been six instances in the previous 11 months where a mentally ill New Yorker had been killed by police officers. Council Members demanded to know why, and sought ways to prevent those deaths in the future, and NYPD officials gave what answers they could with the information at hand.

On Tuesday, Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, will introduce three bills to fill the void in data regarding the NYPD’s interactions with EDPs. Cohen wants to further inform the department’s training protocols for officers, he said, as the NYPD continues its to refine its training practices toward de-escalation under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In the aftermath of deaths of mentally ill people in interactions with police, the de Blasio administration and the NYPD have emphasized the rollout, slow going though it may be, of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which was first introduced in 2015. The training is meant to help officer deescalate situations involving EDPs without using force. By the time of the September hearing, officials estimated that fewer than 6,400 officers in the 34,000-member police force had received the new training.  

Cohen’s legislative efforts seeks to examine the effectiveness of the training by tabulating data on its results. One bill would mandate that the NYPD produce quarterly reports on incidents involving EDPs including the number of calls in which dispatchers were aware of the involvement of an EDP; the number of calls where a CIT officer was dispatched, the number of use-of-force incidents involving EDPs, the number of calls involving EDPs in which the specially-trained Emergency Service Unit was dispatched; arrests of EDPs categorized by age, race and gender; and the number of incidents where EDPs are transported to a hospital or mental health facility instead of being arrested. More data, Cohen insisted, would help the Council conduct better oversight and appraise the program.

“The bills themselves are basically trying to make sure that for EDPs, emotionally-disturbed people, who have interactions with the police, we’re trying to get better data on those interactions,” Cohen said in a phone interview. “There have been a few high-profile, tragic cases. I think there are many, many cases that are handled appropriately...but there’s not enough data.”

At the September hearing, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman estimated that the department receives roughly 150,000 EDP calls every year, and that approximately 1 percent, or 15,000 calls, involved use of force.

A second bill being introduced by Cohen would require the NYPD to issue incident reports on encounters with EDPs, similar to reports currently issued involving domestic violence situations. These could then inform officers should they return to a particular residence from where an EDP was arrested or taken to a health facility. The third bill requires the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to follow up with an EDP within five days of an incident.  

“It’s about trying to make sure there’s good follow up,” Cohen said, noting that officers with access to a history of domestic violence incidents at a particular location are better prepared when responding in repeat instances. “And we think that a similar type of set up could be profoundly useful in dealing with EDPs. So that’s essentially the package of bills, trying to make sure the police are not walking in blind to an EDP situation, trying to get better data.”

cohen via andrewcohennycCohen (pictured) also noted that Tuesday was perhaps his last chance to introduce the bills as chair of the Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services. This week marks the end of the current four-year session of the City Council with dozens of bills being voted through on Tuesday, the last full meeting of the legislative body. Cohen said he doesn’t know who will be the chair of the mental health committee when the new speaker is named on January 3 and then assigns leadership and committee posts, adding that the bills represented a “distillation” of work that has been ongoing and he wanted to make sure to get them introduced while he was still chair.

Since the bills would be pending from a returning member, they are more likely to be prioritized, he said, acknowledging that he was open to chairing another committee if given the chance in his last term in the Council. “Bills for returning members are sort of being queued up so that they’ll be ready to hit the ground. So that’s why I wanted to get this in,” he explained.

The Council member does not expect opposition to his bills from the de Blasio administration or NYPD brass and unions, which often oppose legislative interference in NYPD functioning. “Obviously we haven’t tried to negotiate the bills yet, but I think that they’re common sense pieces of legislation,” Cohen said. “Again, the data may show that 99 percent of the incidents are handled appropriately, where people are getting the help they need when they need it, that the police are playing a very useful vital role, or the data may show something else. I don’t know.”

Prior to and at the September hearing, there have been calls to ensure that social workers are more regularly on the front lines of responses to EDPs, thought he NYPD CIT program does aim to bridge that gap, so that officers are better able to talk people through crisis situations.

He insisted he was not attempting to regulate police activity, simply to mandate reporting of it. “So I suspect that they will be open to it,” he added. “I mean, nobody wants to see tragedy, and most of all an officer. An officer forewarned is forearmed. Knowing what they’re going into, that this is an EDP situation, that information alone could very possibly save lives.”

“I don’t envision this as being something adversarial with the NYPD,” Cohen concluded. “I think that if they have data, they would probably be willing to share it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Bills Seek to Examine NYPD Interactions with ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons,’ Prevent Tragedies Mon, 18 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
As Deaths Mount, Scrutiny of NYPD Response to ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7216-as-deaths-mount-scrutiny-of-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7216-as-deaths-mount-scrutiny-of-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons NYPD de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio & law enforcement officials (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor’s Office)


At a recent hearing, New York City Council members discussed the effectiveness of NYPD responses to “emotionally disturbed person” (EDP) calls, the slow pace of implementation for new NYPD crisis intervention training, and the tragic outcomes of several recent interactions between NYPD officers and emotionally disturbed individuals.

At the hearing, held Sept. 6 jointly by the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, members called for clarity on recent interactions ending in lethal force and stressed their support for the proposed mayoral working group to assess the city’s overall response to individuals in crisis.

The hearing, which received little attention at the time given the city’s primary elections were occurring just six days later, on September 12, occurred in the wake of the deaths of six mentally ill individuals killed by NYPD officers responding to EDP calls over the past 11 months, and just before another such incident would unfold.

The introduction of crisis intervention training at the NYPD in the summer of 2015, a program designed to help officers respond to individuals in the midst of such crises, was intended to better equip officers to handle such circumstances without use of force, but has been rolled out slowly due to class size requirements and competing training demands. Of the department’s approximately 34,000 officers, fewer than 6,400 had been trained at the time of the hearing, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman.

While there is increased scrutiny of how the NYPD handles EDP calls and its deadly encounters with individuals in crisis, some also believe that reforms must be put into place whereby NYPD officers are not the first ones at such scenes; that unarmed counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals are better suited to diffuse EDP situations.

In the July shooting of Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed Brooklyn man, Jeune charged cops with a bread knife and was shot after a Taser shock appeared to have little effect. Three of the four patrol officers on the scene had participated in CIT while the fourth, the only one lacking a CIT background, was the one to fire, according to the department.  In instances of EDP calls, supervisors must make the decision to call the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), whose members complete Emergency Psychological Technician’s training and are equipped to identify and interact with those suffering from mental illnesses. Jeune’s situation was characterized as nonviolent and ESU was not brought in.

Council members and a family member of Jeune questioned whether CIT officers should be given control when responding to EDP calls.

Herman pointed to a department preference for an officer who develops rapport with an individual to take control of the response. “It’s great to have a CIT trained officer and we want to train everyone, but we’re not at the point where we’re saying whoever is CIT trained commands the situation,” she said.

Council members also stressed a desire to see officers trained at a faster clip. The NYPD is presently training 90 officers a week; dividing training into classes of lieutenants, supervisors, and patrol officers. Based loosely on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department and in conjunction with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the program requires a class maximum of 30, which plays a primary role in the department’s delayed implementation. The department expects to train all supervisors and lieutenants by 2018, at which point it will return to training recruits.

Herman also noted the Memphis model’s stipulation that training 25 to 30 percent of the force will allow other patrol officers to learn through experience and observation. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, interjected, reiterating the city’s desire to move beyond the Memphis baseline. “In a city of such great diversity and challenge, that’s a bare minimum for us,” Gibson said.

The officer who shot and killed Jeune was involved in a similar shooting in October of last year, when a bipolar man lunged at officers with a knife, according to the NYPD. Council members grilled Herman on the department’s policy for re-evaluating the training needs of officers with a history of force used during EDP calls. “It seems to me if there is an officer who was involved in an EDP that ended in deadly force, that might be a prompt to get them CIT training so that won’t happen again,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams.

Herman pointed to the overall low number of use of force instances, citing a 1 percent rate for use of any level of force during the 150,000 EDP calls the NYPD receives each year. This total of 15,000 instances includes use of force cases ranging from wrestling the individual to the ground to the use of a Taser, as well as shootings. The deputy commissioner cited the NYPD’s general policy for reviewing use of force, but did not specifically reference department policy in cases specific to EDP calls. “After any use of lethal force or shooting, there’s a very comprehensive review,” said Herman. “When an officer needs instruction on tactics, they get that.”

The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union representing more than 20,000 patrol officers, declined to comment on the hearing when Gotham Gazette inquired. The Lieutenant’s Benevolent Association and Sergeant’s Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment. None of the unions sent representatives to testify at the hearing.

For some advocates, the discussion of how to improve NYPD responses to mental health crises has ignored the larger issue at hand. “I don’t want to try to fine tune a police response, I want to end it,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), in an interview. “The city has to be willing to pay for mental health services instead of police services.”

To this end, City Council members sought answers on how to assist individuals displaying escalating levels of violence before reaching a situation in which an EDP call is necessary.

One such answer are the co-response teams established under the mayor’s “NYC Safe” program, intended to reach mentally ill individuals and those with substance abuse issues before they enter a mental health crisis. The program provides ongoing treatment and support to individuals identified as displaying increasing levels of violence by a number of sources including government agencies, community-based health care providers, and precinct commanding officers.

“This is somebody who’s on someone’s radar because their actions were calling out to us. It’s not just somebody who’s off their meds, it’s somebody who’s maybe in a shelter, who one week has loudly cursed at someone and another week has thrown a chair,” said Deputy Commissioner Herman.

Critics have pointed out that there are still far too many individuals on the streets of the city in mental health or substance abuse crises who are not getting the help they need or being moved into care facilities, which often necessitates the use of Kendra’s Law, legislation that provides court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those whose mental illnesses.

A critical component of the city’s ongoing partnership between law enforcement officers and health care providers are two diversion centers, offering stabilizing services for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues that otherwise would have been arrested on low-level charges. Two such centers will likely be operating by the end of 2018 and will house 2,500 individuals per year, according to Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of mental hygiene at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), who testified at the Council hearing.

For advocates, however, this timeline falls short of addressing the city’s needs. “When we hear that the drop-in centers are not going to be available until the end of 2018, that’s not an acceptable response for the City of New York,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, which often represents individuals unable to afford attorneys, at the hearing.

Hours after the City Council Hearing concluded on September 6, officers fatally shot a mentally ill Bronx man when responding to a call for a “wellness check” from the landlord. The man, Miguel Richards, ignored orders to drop a knife and gun, later found to be a toy gun. The ESU unit had arrived by the time of the shooting, but had not yet entered the apartment.

In the eyes of Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator for Community Access, the officers’ repeated shouts of “Put that knife down” and “What’s in your other hand?” pointed to a failure to engage on the part of officers not trained in CIT. “The incident is just calling out for more CIT officers,” said Rabinowitz. “You can’t shout commands at a person in emotional distress, you need other solutions.”

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by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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As Deaths Mount, Scrutiny of NYPD Response to ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons’ Tue, 26 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Ending the Revolving Door of Homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6054-ending-the-revolving-door-of-homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6054-ending-the-revolving-door-of-homelessness swann homelessness revolving door

Patricia Swann, the author


While Mayor Bill de Blasio works on the details of a 15-year, $2.6 billion supportive housing program to address homelessness, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is creating a statewide plan to reduce homelessness. New York should draw on approaches that have helped in the past as well as those that seem promising, especially supportive housing, which offers job training, debt counseling, mental health care, and other crucial services to residents in an effort to stop the revolving door of homelessness.

We all have to start by acknowledging reality: homelessness is a chronic New York problem, as we can tell from walking the streets or reviewing simple statistics. On any given night the number of people sleeping in shelters is close to 60,000 -- 25,000 are children.

New Yorkers fatigued by the crisis tend to identify it with street dwellers – often middle-aged men with substance-abuse or mental health issues. The truth is that homelessness is rising among families, younger men and women, and the working poor.

The one-two punch keeps getting worse: housing costs are exorbitant while wages are stagnant. Last year, 30.1 percent of the city’s renters paid more than half their incomes in rent. The result: New York City saw 26,857 evictions in 2014.

So much for de-stigmatizing homelessness — the reality is that these are our neighbors and coworkers.

The urgent question is, what works?

In the past 20 years, the New York Community Trust has given about $30 million to nonprofits addressing different aspects of the problem. One proven approach is not simply to increase shelters but to create permanent supportive housing for lower-income New Yorkers. That includes on-site services for medical and physical disabilities, HIV-related illnesses, and mental and substance-abuse disorders. This housing should coordinate with nearby groups that provide other basics, including childhood education centers, employment and financial training, health and substance-abuse clinics, open spaces, access to quality food, libraries and cultural venues.

Studies show such supportive housing cuts taxpayer costs while helping vulnerable people become productive citizens. In the past, the state and city split the cost of supportive housing as well as stronger protections for existing low-cost housing; we hope they will resume that agreement.

Still, it takes years for new units to come online, and meanwhile nearly 60,000 people subsist in shelters that the city’s Department of Investigation calls dilapidated. We need to test alternate strategies. That’s why the Trust is funding an initiative called Gateway Housing, a coalition of nonprofits that run city shelters. Under Gateway, the nonprofits are committed to working with the city and state to rebuild shelters.

More important, they’ll use proven practices and undergo regular evaluations of their social-services programs. Because a strong community is critical to addressing homelessness, Gateway seeks to make shelters integral to neighborhoods.

We have learned that well-directed money can deliver lasting results. For example, we’ve funded several groups that had success in assisting families deal with rising housing costs — by freezing rents for the elderly and disabled, or by providing emergency aid and financial counseling to low-wage New Yorkers. Many times, a head of family who loses a job or is dealing with a health crisis needs just a few weeks’ aid to avoid eviction.

The Trust also funds a promising initiative called Joint-Ownership Entity. Under that model, nonprofit developers — the same organizations that saved the South Bronx, eastern and central Brooklyn, and northern Manhattan from disappearing into rubble in the late seventies — are combining developments into single-ownership entities. This should help them achieve economies of scale in running and maintaining their properties, keep rents down, and generate revenue for services. These nonprofit developers are important neighborhood anchors; if not for the housing they manage at affordable rents, many of the residents would become homeless.

We’re not naïve: No one can end homelessness in an expensive city with persistent pockets of poverty. But by finding ways to keep rents affordable in some neighborhoods, supporting those facing temporary financial setbacks, and offering job training, substance-abuse counseling, and other wraparound services, we can buttress thousands of New Yorkers who are trying to provide a stable home to their families.

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Patricia A. Swann is a Senior Program Officer for Community Development at the New York Community Trust. On Twitter @NYCommTrust.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com 

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Ending the Revolving Door of Homelessness Sun, 27 Dec 2015 05:00:00 +0000
McCray Set to Unveil ‘Mental Health Roadmap,' Signature De Blasio Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5877-mccray-set-to-unveil-mental-health-roadmap-signature-de-blasio-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5877-mccray-set-to-unveil-mental-health-roadmap-signature-de-blasio-plan McCray roundtable

Chirlane McCray hosts a mental health roundtable (all photos: the Mayor's Office via flickr


Over the past several months, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray has had conversations with many of the city’s service providers, non-profit organizations, and long-time advocates for mental health care provision. In preparation to unveil a “roadmap” addressing the “mental health crisis in New York City,” McCray has spoken with a diverse array of constituents who will be directly impacted by new policies.

In collaboration with key departments of her husband’s administration, McCray, who is Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, is leading a multi-agency effort to evaluate mental health care provision city-wide, particularly for low-income and at-risk communities, and chart a path forward.

“It is long overdue to acknowledge that our inattention to mental illness is a public health crisis that requires a public health solution,” McCray wrote in a recent column at CNN.com, in which she discusses mental health care in a national context.

Key to the push behind the initiative is the notion that better mental health care can not only help people live healthier, happier, and more productive lives, but that an improved approach to mental health care can help the city’s education, housing, criminal justice, and other systems.

Schools, homeless shelters, senior centers, and jails have been highlighted in the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget as targets of funding for improved mental health care services. In unveiling her roadmap, McCray is likely to follow up with additional initiatives supporting and tying together these and other sectors, “bringing more resources and better resources to those who need it most,” as she writes. McCray’s plan is due to be released this fall and is certain to discuss mental health as important to all aspects of life, and city services.

Gotham Gazette spoke with service providers and experts in anticipation of the release of McCray’s roadmap and many applauded the work of the First Lady and Mayor de Blasio. There is widespread appreciation for their efforts to prioritize reforming mental health care in New York City - and relief that it is being spoken about so openly and with such urgency.

Regarding the roadmap, general suggestions were consistent, with experts and stakeholders saying that it should call for:
-Improved and sustained communication among service providers, city government and organizations for mental health care advocacy;
-Prioritizing mental health care in all aspects of city government policy;
-Reducing stigma of mental illness and promoting larger public education about mental wellness.

Last week, de Blasio’s office announced that Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, will spearhead the implementation of the plan “to create a more effective mental health system.” Over the past two years Buery has overseen and coordinated the rollout of de Blasio’s ambitious and initially successful universal pre-Kindergarten program. Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the city Health Department, is also sure to play a key role in implementing any new mental health programming.

“Mental illness touches the lives of most New Yorkers,” McCray said in a statement, adding that there has long been two separate health care systems, “one for physical health and one for mental health."

“We can – and will –  improve access to mental health care in New York City and bring mental health care services where New Yorkers live, work and study," McCray promised.

In drawing a “mental health roadmap” to accomplish those lofty goals, it appears that McCray will focus on reducing stigma around mental illness and treatment; conducting a detailed assessment of the current state of service provision city-wide; and, creating a comprehensive and sustainable plan for mental health care for all New Yorkers. Informing the entire plan will be the notion that both governmental and non-governmental service providers of all kinds can contribute to a better, more intertwined mental health care system.

Programming efforts will surely be tied with outreach and publicity campaigns pushing New Yorkers to seek treatment and ensuring that people are more aware of both warning signs of mental illness and available services. There will all but certainly be a focus on equity throughout the city’s boroughs and neighborhoods, with a special focus on the poorest New Yorkers and those who do not speak English - aligning with the motivating theme of the de Blasio administration.

A few recent announcements regarding mental health care show key elements of the roadmap and give indication of what the larger plan will look like. McCray's map and contracts with service providers should provide indication of how the city will measure the effectiveness of its efforts.

On August 6 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the NYC Safe program, “an evidence-driven public safety and public health program.” NYC Safe, a $22 million program, centralizes oversight of efforts by public health and public safety officials to intervene or prevent violence from people with mental health challenges.

“This is a subset of a much bigger mental health reform plan that you’ll hear about from the First Lady in the fall. This is just the first of many pieces,” said the mayor.

Connections to Care (CTC), a $30 million program launched in a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and private funders, seeks to expand access to mental health care for low-income and at-risk communities.

The Mayor’s Fund announced the program on July 30, having successfully secured a $10 million federal grant, to be administered over the course of five years, from the Social Innovation Fund of the CNCS; an additional $20 million has been matched by the Mayor’s Fund and selected service partners. CTC will expand mental health care access by collaborating with community organizations to integrate mental health services into existing programs, providing training and support for staff.

The program will also fund a study to assess the efficacy of service providers and the experiences of those receiving care. In the fall, proposals from service providers will be accepted for review.

In May, de Blasio announced his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, allocating a projected total of $132.7 million for mental health care during fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The City increased funding for mental health care services in the sectors outlined below. The investment is intended to “build a more effective and inclusive mental health system in New York City” and create a national model. It is sure to form much of the backbone to McCray’s roadmap.

McCray de Blasio

Schools
According to the Office of School Health, it is estimated that 9% of 6-12 years olds in New York City suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. A survey conducted in 2011 reveals 8.4% of high school students have attempted suicide one or more times. McCray described the need to eliminate stigma around mental illness, citing statistics that 61% of adults and 35% of children in the city are not receiving the services they need.

More counselors and outside clinicians at city schools, especially in the "community schools" being opened by the de Blasio administration, are key to the effort of providing better mental health care to students.

Maria Astudillo, Director of Mental Health Services at the Children’s Aid Society, asks “what are some of the universal interventions we can do [in schools]?” Given that every year students are required to have physical examinations, Astudillo believes there should be social and emotional screenings for students as well. “We have to be creative, we have to think outside the box,” she said.

Jails
“What we effectively have seen in this country is that the largest mental health facilities in the country now are jails. And people who are mentally ill end up going through the criminal justice system in ways that are utterly inappropriate and hugely damaging and not at all helpful for community safety,” JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society told Gotham Gazette.

Rikers Island jails, recently headlining news due to the deaths of Bradley Ballard, Kalief Browder and others, are under review by the de Blasio administration and outside entities for both immediate and long-term reform.

“Being at Rikers is trauma -- when you’re talking about mental illness, both creation of it and exacerbation of it,” Page added.

Most recently, the de Blasio administration announced in June it would not renew the contracts with two contracted for-profit Rikers health care providers, Corizon, Inc. and Damian Family Care Centers, Inc. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) will take over as the primary provider.

“We have an essential responsibility to provide every individual in our City’s care with high-quality health services – and our inmates are no different,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a June press release. “This transfer to HHC will give our administration direct control and oversight of our inmates’ health services – furthering our goal of improving the quality and continuity of healthcare for every inmate in City custody.”

John Boston of the Legal Aid’s Prisoner’s Rights Project noted, “It is especially appropriate to make this change with respect to mental health care, since the City is attempting to improve mental health treatment in the jails,” adding that Corizon had a “track record” of failing to administer appropriate treatment.

Often anyone receiving treatment while in jail, juvenile detention centers, or homeless shelters has had “experiences with mental health services that were more about control than treatment,” says Page of The Fortune Society.

Furthermore, Page says that policing policies such as adherence to the “broken windows” model leaves “people getting arrested for things like being mentally ill and homeless. So the criminal justice system is stigmatizing people even more.”

In December 2014, the de Blasio Administration launched a $130 million, 4-year plan detailed in a report by the Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System in order to “drive down crime while also reducing the number of people with behavioral health issues needlessly cycling through the criminal justice system.”

First Lady McCray described the criminal justice system as “a maze [New Yorkers with mental health and substance use disorders] can never escape. The City has made a real commitment to addressing the root causes of this urgent problem.”

Initiatives outlined in the Task Force’s Action Plan -- fewer arrests for low-level crimes and, largely, more alternatives for police can use; better community-based treatment for mental illness; and better alternatives for incarceration or detention -- Page believes are a good start to  implementing any sustainable change.

“People should be in jail as a last resort – not on low bail,” Page says. “Not because nobody knows what to do with them, they should [only] be in jail because they’ve done something serious and there’s no better alternative. We lock up way too many people.”

McCray Oddo

Homelessness
The Coalition for the Homeless reports that every night thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep in the streets and other public spaces. The large majority of street homeless people live with mental illness or other health problems, according to the Coalition.

“Many cities have a troubling number of cases in which a person with mental illness is subjected to unnecessary arrest or unnecessary violence,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College.

NYC Safe, the violence prevention program introduced in August by de Blasio, will partially assist in serving the homeless with “mobile treatment teams” and other resources for immediate care.

Though improved access to services and treatment is necessary, Vitale stresses that “ultimately, it is not just mental health outreach workers or a few targeted programs for violent offenders that is needed." To deal with chronic homelessness, to help mentally ill homeless people, “a supportive housing program” is essential, Vitale says. He wrote about such a need in a recent Gotham Gazette column.

Susan Wiviott, CEO of The Bridge, shares this sentiment. Wiviott believes McCray’s roadmap will revolve around preventative care and access to mental health services in communities, which is needed, but the costlier programs of supportive housing and in-treatment services must be on the agenda as well. “If you really want to help people and change their lives so they’re not living on the street, then there must be some access to a stable place to live.”

McCray’s outline could very well advocate for an increase of city funds toward supportive housing and renew de Blasio administration calls for the state government to significantly up its contribution to a new NY/NY supportive housing program, the source of recent controversy.

Seniors
Senior adults – 60 years and older – represent the fastest growing population in New York City. By 2030, one in five New Yorkers will be a senior adult. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) estimates that approximately 20% of New Yorkers 55 and older experience mental illness.

The de Blasio administration has allocated $800,000 in fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, to place clinical social workers in the city’s 20 largest senior centers.

This is not quite enough, though, for some service providers. “You have to recognize that a good portion of the people who are older, who will need mental health services, are homebound. There has to be support for those services,” Nancy Harvey, CEO of Service Program for Older People (SPOP), told Gotham Gazette.

“You can’t just be at senior centers because a lot of the older populations can’t get to senior centers,” Harvey adds. “Forty percent of clients at my agency are homebound, they cannot get out so you have to be able to deliver the services to their homes, there has to be support and recognition for that model, which is more expensive, but certainly less expensive than them ending up in hospitals or nursing homes.”

Harvey credits the First Lady for “bringing visibility to mental health” in New York City and is hopeful about the attention highlighting the need for greater services and treatment, especially for older adults. Senior centers cannot remain the sole focus, however, because “we need to have a broader view of how we’re going to reach [homebound] people,” she says.

McCray Bassett

Building a Better Mental Health Care System
DOHMH created the Center for Health Equity in 2014 under the direction of Commissioner Mary Bassett, hoping to employ a community-based approach toward healthy New Yorkers.

Marlon Williams works at the center as Director of Cross Agency Partnerships at DOHMH. He uses a “health-in-all-policies” (HiAP) approach, focusing on promoting community health in the work of different city agencies.

In an interview with Urban Omnibus, Williams spoke of external factors affecting the health of New Yorkers.

“Very few health outcomes actually have to do with your access to healthcare services,” Williams said. “Much of what determines your ability to live to your fullest health potential is about the physical and social context in which you live. Issues of race, discrimination, class, and poverty all have a tremendous impact on health and create specific health inequities.”

As has been cited in the recent Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in the South Bronx, poverty and health care issues often overlap. The new Connections to Care program will soon be looking to contract with community-based organizations where vulnerable populations can be reached and people with symptoms or at risk of mental illness can be identified and helped. These can include people struggling with stable housing, employment, or sobriety; new or expecting parents; and out of work young adults.

McCray and her husband’s administration have announced programming so far that reflect the complexities of health, particularly mental health, disparities. McCray’s roadmap is all but certain to follow a HiAP model, including schools, jails, and other places where New Yorkers may access services and evaluating needs based on income, cultural background, and more.

Creating an effective and comprehensive mental health care system will require, Williams believes, that the city government figures out “place-based intervention to address, mitigate, or even prevent [health inequities] — so anyone anywhere in New York City has an opportunity for optimal health.”

Essential to the city's efforts will be tracking its programs and the work being done by community organizatins, service providers, and city agencies. With more investment comes more scrutiny and the need to prove the efficacy of devoting resources to new work.

In her recent op-ed for CNN, McCray extended a call for action to other local and national leaders, urging them to commit the time and resources to implement needed mental health care services.

“Stigma, a lack of resources and the marginalization of mental health for decades have left us a fragmented and broken system that must be fixed. Too many people's lives are at stake, in New York City and beyond.”

***
by Kaela Sanborn-Hum, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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McCray Set to Unveil ‘Mental Health Roadmap,' Signature De Blasio Plan Tue, 08 Sep 2015 19:06:12 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5842-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5842-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday August 7

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others carry a symbolic casket as part of an anti-violence campaign, via Ross Barkan; Mayor Bill de Blasio and comedian Louis C.K., who was shadowing the mayor for two days, outside City Hall, also via Ross Barkan

adams casket barkan

BdB Louis CK Barkan

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Schneiderman Special Prosecutor Case: Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his first case as special prosecutor in police involved deaths of unarmed civilians would investigate the circumstances surrounding Raynette Turner’s death. [Read our in-depth look at how the new executive order shifts the relationship between oft-rivals Gov. Cuomo & AG Schneiderman]

2. Academic Integrity Task Force: After new allegations of issues with academic integrity at certain schools, NYC DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña is establishing a permanent task force that provides oversight and training to ensure all schools comply with “rigorous policies and standards.”

3. Legionnaires’ Outbreak: On Friday, the numbers stood at just over 100 people infected, with ten dead in the most recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, this one in the Bronx. New York City buildings with water-cooling towers have to “assess and disinfect the units within the next two weeks,” under Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett’s new directive. On Thursday Mayor de Blasio said that there would be “substantial action next week, legislatively.”

4. De Blasio Mental Health/Public Safety Initiative: On Thursday Mayor de Blasio announced “NYC Safe,” a $22 million initiative, designed to find and help people with severe mental health issues and violent tendencies. The initiative will combine clinical treatment and law enforcement to intervene before or after violence occurs. The plan is part of a larger “mental health roadmap” that First Lady Chirlane McCray will unveil in September.

5. UFA Contract Agreement: On Thursday the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which covers 8,000 firefighters and FDNY personnel, and the City announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement. The deal includes new disability legislation, a key point of contention in negotiations. According to the administration, 83 percent of the city workforce is now under contract, after the number was zero when de Blasio took office.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for firefighters, who agreed to a new contract with the city that will see pay rise by 11 percent over seven years, including retroactivity. There is also good news for the 8,000 or so members of the UFA in terms of engine company staffing and disability pension.

  • It was a bad week for Mayor de Blasio - according to a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating among NYC voters is at 44%, “the worst net approval rating of his tenure.”

THE FLASH:

  • About 125 years ago, on August 6, 1890, in New York, William Kemmler became the first person to be executed by electrocution. The alternative method would have been a hanging. Kemmler was shocked twice, the second time at 1,030 volts for two minutes, before he died.

  • About this time last year, August 7, 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced a public-private partnership that would allow the City to “unlock and analyze municipal decision-making information” from the City Record and publish the record online while signing new legislation into law. The City Record has daily info from the city on government procurement, public hearings, and hiring, among other topics.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:
All from a big Thursday evening:

  • New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he is voting against President Obama’s Iran deal.

  • The first Republican presidential primary debate was held Thursday evening.

  • Jon Stewart signed off as host of The Daily Show after 16 years. Watch his final episode here.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

***
by Erika Wang and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:27:06 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, July 27-31 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5832-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-july-27-31 https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5832-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-july-27-31 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday July 31

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: rendering of the next LaGaurdia Airport, via the Governor's Office on flickr

La Guardia rendering

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. New LaGuardia: Governor Cuomo and Vice President Joe Biden announced that LaGuardia Airport will be overhauled by 2021, with an estimated first-phase cost of about $4 billion. Experts say the project could take more than 10 years to build and cost about $8 billion.  

2. MTA Budget Battle: MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast sent an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, pushing for the city to add $3.2 billion over five years to the capital budget for MTA funding. Governor Cuomo has said he’s agreed to add more than $8 billion to the state budget plan towarding closing the MTA budget gap, and the governor has repeatedly pointed out that the city benefits the most from MTA services; while a spokesperson for the mayor said that “New York City, through taxes, tolls and fares already contributes over 70 percent of the MTA’s operating budget.”

3. JCOPE Controversy: Four of the 14 commissioners from the Joint Committee on Public Ethics wrote an open letter on the questionable hiring of “special counsel,” a position excluded from the original JCOPE staffing plan, but created previously and now being again filled, this time with Kevin Gagan, who will be chief of staff and counsel, by the outgoing executive director, Letizia Tagliafierro, at the behest of the governor, whom she is leaving to work for. Gagan has worked with the governor in multiple positions previously, part of a lengthy public sector resume, and the commissioners are calling this an example of “incessant interference.”

4. City Mental Health Plans: First Lady Chirlane McCray, Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, announced a $30 million public-private partnership to support the new Connections to Care program, which will “integrate mental health services into programs already serving low-income communities.” It will be part of a larger mental health roadmap McCray is preparing, which will be unveiled in September.

5. Flanagan Names DeFrancisco Senate #2: New Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican from Long Island, named Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco (who had a friendly battle with Flanagan for the top post when indicted Sen. Dean Skelos stepped down) as Deputy Majority Leader - a seat also vacated due to corruption, this one when former Sen. Tom Libous was convicted on charges of lying to the FBI.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • 400,000 New Yorkers now have an IDNYC six months after the program began, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced.

  • 31 cases of Legionnaires disease have been diagnosed in the South Bronx since July 10 through July 29. New York City health officials are tracking the unusual increase, but say that there is no cause to panic.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Governor Cuomo, who not only unveiled plans for a new La Guardia Airport, but was lauded by Vice President Joe Biden in multiple appearances Monday - Biden called Cuomo, “about the best governor in the United States.”

  • It was a bad week for New York Canna, Inc, the sixth-placing company in the competition for medical marijuana licences in New York. Five winners were announced Friday by the State Department of Health and will be allowed to dispense medicinal marijuana. Canna just barely missed out - the scoring revealed it was just .15 points behind the fifth-place company.

THE FLASH:

  • Last year, on July 28, 2014, Governor Cuomo called the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption (created by Governor Cuomo in July 2013 and shuttered less than a year later) a “phenomenal success,” following a report into the relationship between the governor’s office and Moreland amid reports that Cuomo was being investigated by United States Attorney Preet Bharara for interfering with the commission’s work.

  • 29 years ago, on July 30, 1986, Mayor Ed Koch, city, state and federal law enforcement held a press conference at City Hall and called for “more state judges, more Federal judges, more prosecutors, more courtroom space and the deportation of all illegal aliens convicted of narcotics offenses.”

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • WNYC’s The Takeaway tackles the economic effects of raising the minimum wage after a New York State Wage Board unanimously finalized their recommendation to gradually raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 per hour.
  • City Comptroller Scott Stringer released his office's analysis of the city's new fiscal year 2016 adopted budget.
  • Capital New York goes inside a meeting of New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and a Bronx superintendent.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

***
by Erika Wang and Ben Max

Note: this article has been updated with more detail about the JCOPE storyline, noting that the counsel position had been filled previously and adding other information.

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, July 27-31 Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:13:07 +0000
License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5782-license-to-carry-new-yorks-gun-permit-laws https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5782-license-to-carry-new-yorks-gun-permit-laws Cuomo SAFE Act

Gov. Cuomo signs the SAFE Act, Jan. 2013 (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


Riders on a Brooklyn-bound 4 train fled in terror when a man responded to taunts from two younger men by pulling a gun and loading a clip. As the confrontation escalated and the train stopped, the melee spilled into the Borough Hall station, with threats and shoving until Gilbert Drogheo, one of the younger men, was lying dead of a gunshot wound on the station floor. Like a number of recent shootings, most of the incident was captured on video.

What stands out about the shooting death is that the firearm that killed Drogheo wasn't obtained illegally. According to law enforcement officials, Willie Grooms, the 69-year-old retired corrections officer who shot Drogheo, had a pistol permit. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that Grooms will not be charged with a crime despite pleas from Drogheo's family. Grooms has maintained that Drogheo was harassing and assaulting him and that he attempted a citizen's arrest.

The incident and several others, such as the seemingly accidental gun shot that injured five people at a Waldorf Astoria wedding, raise serious questions for many New Yorkers - as the recent shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church that killed nine has also done for many across the country. These are questions being seized upon by gun control activists in especially vehement efforts during June, which is Gun Violence Awareness Month in New York. Among the questions being asked are 'who is allowed to carry a gun' and 'how do people get gun permits.'

Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate agree that New York has some of the toughest gun-permitting laws of any state in the nation. However, regulations differ greatly between New York City and the rest of the state, with the city having a much more stringent system. This is evident as the New York Times recently reported on armed upstate New Yorkers on the lookout for two escaped prisoners.

"New York has some of the strongest laws in the country," said Leah Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "New York is a 'may issue' state, whereas Florida is a 'shall issue.' Meaning [Florida] will basically issue [a gun permit] to anyone with a pulse."

New York is known as a 'may-issue state' because its regulations allow for background checks before issuing a license. However, the licensing process upstate is less restrictive than that of some other states, like Maryland, that rarely issue permits. Other states, such as Florida, are known as 'shall-issue' states because they have an application process that is mostly a formality. States like Texas are known as states 'unrestricted' because its residents are free to carry concealed firearms without going through any application process.

The screening and permitting process in New York differs based on type of firearm. Applicants for pistol permits undergo criminal and mental health background checks at the state and federal level - even when purchasing at a gun show. Permits are issued by local judges or clerks. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, free of a felony conviction or "serious" offense, of good moral character, and not have had a previous license revoked. Applicants must also state whether they have suffered severe mental illness or been institutionalized or hospitalized for such an illness. Permit issuers may deny a license based on that history.

In most of the state outside of New York City, permits are not required for the vast majority of rifles and shotguns used to hunt. Whereas the city does require a permit for guns used for hunting. The SAFE Act banned most assault style shotguns and rifles across the state but grandfathered in those purchased before January 15, 2013. Those grandfathered firearms were required to be registered before January 14, 2014.

"In New York City it is nearly impossible to get a pistol permit without some kind of hardcore need," said Tom King of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. "Getting a concealed carry permit is almost impossible in the city unless you are a politician, a celebrity or very, very wealthy." The New York Police Department is tasked with reviewing applications for concealed carry permits in the city. A New York Times report from 2011 revealed that a number of celebrities and media members like John Catsimatidis, Sean Hannity, Alexis Stewart, and John Mack all have city pistol permits.

Outside of the city, King says, the permitting is less prohibitive but may take some time due to background checks that have recently been enhanced by the SAFE Act - legislation that is much maligned by gun rights advocates. The difficulty of getting a concealed permit varies depending on the county in which someone applies, in most cases the process is overseen by a judge or a clerk.

The NYPD offers a number of different permits that allow for pistols to be carried for business purposes, or restrict the carrier to a specific business or residence. Store owners and security guards appear to be the most-often licensed. Applicants must pay about $400 for a license, wait 12 weeks, and undergo a background check. They then must apply to the NYPD for permission to buy whichever firearm they select. One license can cover up to 25 different weapons. There were over 40,000 permit holders in New York City as of 2011.

Applications for permits in the rest of the state generally cost a lot less - often around $15 - and are completed in about two months. The SAFE Act established that state pistol permits must be renewed every five years. Pistol owners who fail to do so can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Renewal involves submitting an applicant's current address, contact information, social security number, and a list of owned firearms.

King said that New York's current permitting rules seem fairly stable and that his group is mostly involved in fighting off the attempts of local municipalities to tweak gun laws. He notes that most smaller cities have to apply to the state for home rule to make their gun laws tougher and most of the time they are denied, or the law is defeated in court. His group is also actively looking to make repealing the SAFE Act a major issue in the 2016 elections for state Senate and Assembly. It was often used against Governor Andrew Cuomo and others during the 2014 cycle, while when he was campaigning in New York City, Cuomo boasted about passing the law, enacted quickly after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT.

Barrett, of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, is concerned that a federal bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state conceal-carry permits is picking up steam. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a host of Republican legislators from states with no permitting laws. "This operates more or less like a driver's license," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told The Hill in February. "So, for example, if you have a driver's license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states."

Advocates of the bill say it would prevent 'gotcha' moments where travelers with out-of-state concealed-carry permits are arrested for toting guns illegally in another state. Barrett and gun-control advocates say the bill would wreak havoc in New York. They say the bill could severely damage efforts to fight gun trafficking from out of state, which the NYPD and others often point to as a major issue in terms of guns used to commit crimes in New York City. "New York would be forced to honor permits from these other states that have weaker laws," said Barrett. "We would likely see an influx of guns from out of state and an increase in trafficking. And how will New York be able to confirm these permits?"

While, New York may very well have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, some in Albany, including legislators who back stricter gun laws, say that in order to get Senate Republicans to negotiate on other bills they may have to concede to their efforts to roll back parts of the SAFE Act. On June 9 the Senate passed a bill that would do away with a SAFE Act provision that requires background checks on those who purchase ammo. A state database to monitor ammo sales has yet to be brought online. The bill would also prevent gun registrations from being made public and allow family members to gift semiautomatic guns to their relatives.

King said he thinks the bill has a real chance to make it through the Legislature. Barrett, however, points to a recent poll her group conducted on the individual elements of the SAFE Act. The poll shows that New Yorkers support the SAFE Act by a 2-1 margin, and their support increases overwhelmingly when asked about the individual gun-safety measures contained in the act.

Background checks for all firearm sales was backed by 89 percent of all voters and 80 percent of gun owners surveyed. Renewal of pistol permits every five years was supported by 79 percent of voters and 53 percent of gun owners. Background checks for ammunition sales was supported by 72 percent of all voters and 37 percent of gun owners.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly support gun safety, in fact they support the measures contained in the SAFE Act when they learn how common sense they are," said Barrett.
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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:22:56 +0000
With Focus on Mental Health, Push for New City Veterans Agency Continues https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5712-with-focus-on-mental-health-push-for-new-city-veterans-agency-continues https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5712-with-focus-on-mental-health-push-for-new-city-veterans-agency-continues vets at hearing

Veterans at Wednesday's City Council hearing (photo: William Alatriste) 


The City Council’s Committee on Veterans held an oversight hearing Wednesday to gauge the effectiveness of the Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs (MOVA).

The hearing seemed the latest chapter in a renewed push for a separate Department of Veterans Affairs by Council Member Eric Ulrich, who chairs the veterans committee, and like-minded council members and advocates. Ulrich introduced a bill last year which would create a new department to deal with veteran affairs, removing the office from directly within the mayor’s in order to increase its profile, funding, and transparency. “Ideally such an agency would be fully funded and would act as a one-stop shop for any need that a veteran might have,” Ulrich said at Wednesday’s hearing. He stressed that MOVA needs dedicated funding and personnel to better serve New York City’s 225,000 veterans.

MOVA Commissioner and retired Army Brigadier General Loree Sutton testified before the committee and reiterated her office’s top strategic priorities in serving veterans’ needs, namely ending veteran homelessness, focusing on mental and behavioral health for veterans, and developing employment opportunities for veterans.

Mayor de Blasio announced at his 2015 State of the City address that he would end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and Sutton indicated today that she was confident of reaching that goal.

“Mission and strategy drive programs and budget,” Sutton said in her testimony. She repeatedly stressed that MOVA’s work goes beyond it’s own budget and personnel, working with multiple city agencies to help veterans in need.

Sutton has yet to take a public position on Ulrich’s bill, and it is clear that the de Blasio administration is in no rush to back it. Responding to Council Member Fernando Cabrera’s query on whether an independent agency could be more effective, Sutton said, “I will keep that as an open question going forward. My pledge to the mayor, to the taxpayers, to the veterans, to the families in New York, is to make the best use of the resources that we currently have. We’re in the midst of doing that right now. Once I have convinced myself that we have maximized the resources that we have, then we’ll be in a position to assess what might make sense going down the road. “

When asked, Mayor de Blasio has not supported the idea of creating a new agency. The proposal received overwhelming support today from veterans advocates and organizations and even the office of Public Advocate Letitia James. “Disappointingly, our Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs is not funded in a way that reflects the actual needs of our veterans,” said Oswaldo Pereira, a veteran and outreach coordinator for the public advocate’s office, who was speaking on behalf of James. “Veterans deserve to have a department that can truly serve their needs,” he added.

Joseph Bello, founder of NY MetroVets, criticized Commissioner Sutton for her silence on a new veterans department. “It is time to create a free-standing direct services agency that can not only have preliminary and executive budget hearings on veterans issues, but can funnel contracts awarded to veteran service providers in the boroughs directly, instead of through other city agencies that are unfamiliar with these groups.”

There was much focus at the hearing on mental health issues, a concern raised by committee members Cabrera and Paul Vallone. Sutton told Cabrera that mental health issues were “an area in the system that could use some additional development.” Toward that, she pointed out MOVA’s partnership with First Lady Chirlane McCray through the recently announced Mental Health Roadmap due to be released in the fall.

Vallone was quick to point out that the $54 million plan failed to mention veterans. “When I see this go up and I don’t see my veterans in here, I gotta fight for it,” Vallone said. Sutton promised the committee, however, that when the final strategy is released, veterans would figure significantly.

Representing the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of New York City, Melissa Earle also called for expanding MOVA to the level of a department. “With a department dedicated to serving veterans, greater resources and funding can be secured to better overcome the complex challenges of veterans of all generations,” she said.

Ulrich’s bill has a veto-proof 40 co-sponsors (in the 51-member body) and he has indicated that he would be willing to push it forward even without the mayor’s support. 

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

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With Focus on Mental Health, Push for New City Veterans Agency Continues Wed, 06 May 2015 19:24:06 +0000