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NYPD sued for info on how cops treated homeless people on the subway

A man sleeps early in the morning at the E train terminal at World Trade Center, March 10, 2020. (Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

BY GREG B. SMITH, THE CITY. This article was originally published on by THE CITY

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The Coalition for the Homeless sued the NYPD Monday for information on the scope and impact of cops’ efforts to encourage homeless people to get off the subways and into shelters.

The much-publicized Subway Diversion Project, with its philosophy of “supports, not summonses,” was touted by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a way for officers to provide help without steering the homeless into the criminal justice system.

Instead, the Coalition says, multiple people wound up hit with tickets and were even arrested. Exact numbers, though, are not known.

In November, the group filed a request under the state’s public records law demanding release of a trove of records spelling out how the project was run and whether it proceeded as de Blasio had pledged.

The request asked the NYPD how many homeless people received summons, how many were arrested, how many were provided services — and what kind of help they got.

The NYPD had promised to respond by April, but that deadline came and went with zero documents delivered. On Monday, the Coalition filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court to get the police to cough up the records.

“There’s just been a lack of transparency about this program and our goal was to learn about it,” said Deborah Diamant, the Coalition’s director of government relations and legal affairs.

‘What They Need is Housing’

De Blasio announced the program in June 2019, promising that homeless individuals found to have violated transit system rules — such as evading the fare or stretching across seats — would be sent to support programs instead of getting a summons.

Last month, the mayor pulled the plug on the program amid the pandemic, saying that social service agencies would be able to handle the task instead of cops. The NYPD exited the city’s homeless outreach effort entirely in early July — two months into a 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. subway shutdown that’s forced many homeless people to find overnight shelter elsewhere.

The suit comes about a month after THE CITY reported that a cop punched a homeless man while trying to eject him from Manhattan subway, in an incident captured on police body-camera video. The man faces charges of resisting arrest, while the cop who hit him after midnight on May 25 has not been disciplined.

The NYPD’s press office did not respond to questions about the Coalition’s demand for information on the subway diversion program.

The group has repeatedly insisted the police should not be charged with tackling the city’s homelessness challenges.

“Police officers should not be engaged in homeless services,” said Diamant. “It’s just another response by the city criminalizing the state of homelessness. Individuals who are homeless do not need further interaction with the police department. What they need is housing.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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