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MTA Urging City To Take Action As Felony Assaults On Subways, Buses Rise

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD says felony assaults on subways and buses are up 13% so far this year.

Transit reps are again pleading with the city to help provide additional mental health resources and more policing, CBS2's Alice Gainer reports.

This comes after another woman was shoved onto the subway tracks -- the fifth person so far this year.

"We have begged for help and we continue to need it," said interim NYC Transit President Sara Feinberg.

With push after push happening in the subways, the latest happening Tuesday morning in the Bronx, Feinberg testified before the New York City Transportation Committee oversight hearing.

"Right now, the city doesn't let substance abuse or mental health specialists come into our system and help people. We are ground zero for folks who are having a mental health crisis," Feinberg said.

She says mental illness is often the root of the violence and has been asking the city to allow people to call 311 from the subway to report someone who may need a social worker before they turn violent and 911 needs to be called.

Right now, no matter what, Feinberg said, "the 311 operator says, 'I can't help you, you're just gonna have to call the police.'"

The city previously announced a pilot program in two precincts that would send mental health teams instead of NYPD to certain 911 calls, which has also drawn sharp criticism.

Watch Alice Gainer's report --

The pandemic has exacerbated New York's mental health and addiction crises.

"We see the need for mental health and addiction services going up, and at the same time, we see the programs that offer these services decreasing because of budget cuts," said Matthew Shapiro, associate director of New York's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "All hospitals were mandated to have 30% of their hospital beds available for COVID overflow. Well, many hospitals, especially those in New York City, have disproportionately targeted mental health and detox beds for reduction to meet those mandates."

For example, while overdose deaths in New York City rose 28% in just the first quarter of 2020, the city closed 101 inpatient/detox hospital beds since last year.

In the meantime, MTA chairman Pat Foye says the agency is calling out for additional police resources.

"We'll make sure we have the proper balance of officers deployed appropriately," Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said.

"We're putting more police where they need to be," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

While riding the subway Wednesday, CBS2 asked the mayor how the city is addressing mental health concerns in the transit system right now.

"We're kind of in a charade here if we think the way to handle mental health is just when it is reached it's worst point. We have got to deal with this at the foundation," de Blasio said. "If we're really gonna solve the problem, it involves mental health screening in the schools early."

The mayor insists subways are safer than they used to be, but transit assaults are up 13.3% compared to this time last year and up 70% compared to three years ago.

Some riders described what they've been seeing and experiencing.

"People that are mentally ill are very unpredictable, so I feel a little less safe," said John Fulton.

"There are a lot of people sleeping on the subways," another person said.

"I feel pretty safe in the subway," another person said.

"We need to have the services available for police to divert people to and to make sure these services are not letting people like that fall through the cracks," Shapiro told CBS2's Ali Bauman.

The chairman of the transportation committee says he wants the city and the state to work on this problem together.

A spokesperson for the Cuomo administration released the following statement:

"While localities have the lead in keeping public transit safe and providing support to those in need of psychiatric and addiction services, the state continues to implement new efforts to help vulnerable New Yorkers. This includes Pathway Home -- announced in the State of the State -- where the state is partnering with a New York City-based not-for-profit to provide care management, psychiatric and medical services, and housing navigation to individuals living on the streets, in subways, and in shelters to help them find a home and stay in one."

CBS2's Alice Gainer and Ali Bauman contributed to this report.


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