'We Have To Do Better': NYPD Commissioner Addresses Subway Homelessness

Dermot Shea
Photo credit Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Nearly 5,000 members of the NYPD have tested positive for COVID-19, but most of them have recovered and are now back at work.

In an interview with WCBS 880's Wayne Cabot on Tuesday morning, Commissioner Dermot Shea said the sick out rate has been trending down for 19 days in a row. 

"We're getting closer to our normal, still a little stretched, but all the indicators are positive," Shea said. "We have to be cautiously optimistic here and make sure we still practice safe practices in terms of how we're working. We're still doing a lot of working from home and telecommuting, video conferencing, things of that nature."

On Monday, 3,123 uniformed members of the NYPD were on sick report, accounting for 8.6% of the department's uniformed workforce. That is down from a high of 19.8%.

To date, 4,849 members have tested positive for the virus and as of Monday, 3,557 are back on the job. Thirty-seven members of the service have died due to coronavirus-related illness.

Frontline workers from those in health care to law enforcement face unthinkable stress as they go out into the world every day to battle the virus.

"The main worry is what you may bring home to your family. You've seen scenarios whether it's emergency room doctors, certainly cops are doing the same thing, when they get home at the end of the day and they're changing out of their clothes in their driveway. So that the unknown here. I think we would all agree that the sooner we get out of this craziness, back to some semblance of normal, the better. I think there is light at the end of the tunnel here, we've gotta hang in there a little bit more and hopefully sooner rather than later we'll get back to that normal."

One of the issues the NYPD has been working to address amid the coronavirus pandemic is the increase of homeless people on the subway system.

"You have 95 percent ridership down, you have a condensed schedule of trains, so there's less trains, no people to camouflage what in some circumstances has been there before," Shea said. "I'm troubled for a couple reasons — number one because you see the people that need help, there's obviously a mental illness component in a lot of this. There's also the the scenario where we're going to get back to work, and we have to have workable trains, clean trains."

Shea said the NYPD has been proactive in addressing the problem.

"We eject people on a daily basis, and we don't eject people because they're homeless... it's for rules violations. Being homeless, being down and out, being in need of help is not what the NYPD is gonna start targeting people for. What we are targeting people for is helping people," Shea said, adding that the NYPD has been working with the Department of Homeless Service to engage with the homeless to try to get them to go to a shelter.

The city wants the MTA to shut down nearly a dozen stations located at the end of subway lines overnight to get homeless people off trains and access to the help they need.

The commissioner said the NYPD is working with the MTA to identify solutions for those end-of-the-line stations.

"I think when you look at the train system it's a closed loop so I think there's some common sense things that we can do regarding the end of the lines, regarding taking trains out of service, getting them cleaned, having everyone get off the train so we don't have an environment where people can ride the train endlessly overnight — hours and hours and hours on end," Shea said. "That's not what trains were meant for. I think it's a situation now that we all would agree we have to do a little better."

The commissioner also discussed the challenges the department will face as the city looks to close 40 miles of sreets to vehicular traffic to provide residents with more space to safely enjoy the outdoors.

"I think the key here for the NYPD is we have to be fluid and we have to adapt because I don't know that we know exactly how this is going to go," Shea said. "We want to make sure that it doesn't create a situation where those streets get too crowded and from the NYPD's perspective we just want to make sure that it's safe. So we don't want an errant car getting onto one of those closed down streets where we potentially have kids... safety of everyone is our paramount concern and we'll be flexible and monitoring on a day to day basis."

While crime has been down amid the coronavirus crisis, Shea said he does have some concerns.

"Crime is down substantially, it has right from the start and that's not a surprise to me or anyone in law enforcement when you look. To have crime you need victims. When you have no one on the street, when you have businesses closed, when you have 95 percent ridership down on the trains, crime has plummeted," Shea said. "What concerns me is — is there a storm on the horizon? Because even though crime is down substantially, you do have certain segments of the criminal population committing crimes where they can. So we have stores being broken into, we have cars getting stolen at much too high a rate. And we do still have robberies taking place. So when you have robberies taking place with almost no victims on the street those are some of the things that concern us." 

Shea said the NYPD will be aggressive in cracking down on crime and " making sure that New York City remains the safest city in the world."

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