NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD were on the defensive Monday, after being slammed by the governor and head of the MTA for not doing enough to deal with the homeless problem in the subways.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer explained, a picture of a homeless man sleeping under the seats of a downtown 3 train has sparked a whole lot of finger-pointing.
When asked about the photo of the man asleep under the seats – which ran in the New York Post — de Blasio took responsibility as an issue for the NYPD.
“There are particular rules related to the MTA that give additional enforcement activity to the NYPD,” the mayor said. “A case like that would be enforceable and we’ll enforce it.”
That in turn prompted a harsh response from Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota.
“One of the first words in (the mayor’s) response was ‘MTA…’ the city must stop running from its responsibility,” Lhota said. “Get the sleeping homeless off the trains. It’s the mayor’s job.”
Political consultant Gerry O’Brien called Lhota’s reaction “over the top.”
“He obviously got a phone call from somebody a little higher up the chain command to take de Blasio on about this issue,” O’Brien said.
That would be Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom Lhota engaged in a tag team wrestling match Monday. They each faulted the mayor for failing to curb the city’s massive homeless problem, and for dropping the ball by not ordering the NYPD to get the homeless off the trains and out of the stations.
“I reject this argument of, ‘well it’s the civil rights of a homeless person to sleep on the subways,” Cuomo said.
“This is an ever-increasing problem. We’ve been after the NYPD which is responsible for the security in their system to do more and more about the homeless, it’s gotten to a crisis level,” Lhota said.
“The NYPD polices the subway system. We need to get the homeless off the trains and out of the subway stations so people feel safe. The NYPD used to do this, we need to do it again,” Cuomo added.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the NYPD fired back in a statement Monday night. The department said the subway is one of the safest places in the safest city in America, and the chances of being a victim of major crime in the subway system are one in a million.
The department said homeless people who are not violating the rules cannot be ejected from the system, and pointed out that 90 percent of the homeless in the subway who are offered help refuse it.
Julius Winn, who is homeless, said he feels safer in the subway than in a shelter.
“I come back on the street, come back on the street,” he said.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill also took a softer approach, pointing out that he wants his cops to have ‘a level of compassion.’
Having compassion for the homeless in the subways also reflects the mayor’s view that the NYPD should try to get the homeless into shelters to accept services, not arresting them or giving them tickets.
“When it leads to enforcement, it is last resort, we do enforce when it’s necessary if you’re sleeping feet up,” NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox said.
Riders want the mayor to do something about the homeless.
The NYPD said that so far this year they’ve issued 2,000 civil summonses to the homeless in Manhattan.