NEW YORK (WABC) -- Officials outlined a new plan on Tuesday to help more people experiencing severe mental illness in New York City.
A directive has been issued immediately to city workers - including police, fire, EMS and health department employees - to transport anyone having a psychiatric issue and refusing voluntary assistance to the hospital, where they will be evaluated.
It's part of the long-term strategy announced by the mayor to address "individuals experiencing severe mental illnesses," with "an immediate shift in how we interpret our obligation to those in need."
Officials said state law allows intervention when severe mental illness prevents an individual from meeting basic human needs.
"A common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal, or presenting a risk of imminent harm," Mayor Eric Adams said. "This myth must be put to rest. Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness and whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs."
The new directive "creates an expedited step by step process for involuntary transportation for individuals in crisis," which "states explicitly that it is appropriate to use this process when individuals appear to be mentally ill and unable to meet their basic needs."
Police will receive enhanced training for "basic needs" interventions, including "engagement strategies to try before resorting to removal." Training started Tuesday morning.
The city will also launch a new telephone hotline for police to provide guidance when they encounter people in psychiatric crisis. The officers will receive "real time access to consider potential responses to individuals with mental health needs."
The phone number will be staffed by health + hospital personnel and will be running by next year.
Additionally, special intervention teams will be pared with police officers to help them get people in crisis into care.
The city will also pursue legislation to get "the basic needs standard for involuntary intervention" written into state law. The city believes this is already the law, but codifying court precedent will "help us make it widely understood."
"The NYPD works day and night to improve the quality of life of all New Yorkers, especially our city's most vulnerable populations," said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. "This is a longstanding and very complex issue. And we will continue to work closely with our many partners to ensure that everyone has access to the services they require. This deserves the full support and attention of our collective efforts."
While many praised the city's efforts to take steps to help those with severe mental illness, not everyone supports the new directive.
"The mayor's announcement leaves many details unspecified, questions unanswered, and the administration must provide more information on the intentions, implementation, and non-police investment in its plan," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. "A framework that continues to center overreliance on police, diminishes the role of health professionals, and de-prioritizes the role of peer support will not be sustainable or effective in meeting the needs of New Yorkers in need or a city in crisis."
The Coalition for Homeless said the mayor "continues to get it wrong" and homeless people are more likely to be victims of crimes than the perpetrators.
"Mayor Adams needs to focus on repairing our broken mental health system and prioritize bringing access to quality voluntary care and affordable, permanent housing with support services to New Yorkers who need it the most," a spokeswoman with the coalition said.
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman released the following statement:
"The Mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities. The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government's ability to detain people experiencing mental illness - limits that the Mayor's proposed expansion is likely to violate. Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care. Unless we adequately invest in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers facing mental illness and our chronic lack of housing, the current mental health crisis will continue. The decades-old practice of sweeping deep-seated problems out of public view may play well for the politicians, but the problems will persist - for vulnerable people in desperate need of government services and for New Yorkers. The Mayor's attempt to police away homelessness and sweep individuals out of sight is a page from the failed Giuliani playbook. With no real plan for housing, services, or supports, the administration is choosing handcuffs and coercion."