May 24, 2022

NYC subway attack shows city’s ongoing struggle to grapple with mental health, crime surge, experts say

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New York City’s Brooklyn subway shooting allegedly at the hands of a man with a self-proclaimed mental health history has prompted renewed calls for needed services and safety measures in the transit system. 

The terrifying events of the April 12 Brooklyn subway shooting, which left 29 people injured, including 10 with gunshot wounds, have highlighted the need for the follow-through of services and promises made by city officials and Mayor Eric Adams, according to transit crime and policing experts

“I think New York has had a problem for quite a while,” former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Fox News Digital about the need for mental health assistance. “This has just kept developing. I think we have not done as much as we could as far as the city to address the issue.”

James, 62, is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal detention facility in Brooklyn. He has been charged with one count of committing a terrorist or other violent attack against a mass transportation system, and faces up to life in prison if convicted. 

“The mental health community has completely dropped the ball on this.”

— Dr. Dorothy Schulz, MTA-Metro North Railroad Police Captain (Ret.)

He was allegedly aboard a Manhattan-bound N-train during morning rush-hour when he placed a gas mask on his face, activated a smoke canister and began shooting inside the train and on the platform of the 36th Street subway station. 

Prosecutors have described how he “terrifyingly opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this City hasn’t seen in more than 20 years.”

“We need more institutional beds for people who have a severe mental disorder,” Kelly went on. “You see a lot of folks that clearly need help, and we have not done enough to help those people.” 

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During his initial court appearance last week, James’ court appointed attorney, Mia Eisner-Grynberg requested her client undergo psychiatric evaluation. And a review of a YouTube account linked to the suspect shows he has a history of posting videos in which he criticizes Mayor Eric Adams, social workers, and homeless individuals, among others, and threatens to kill people. 

In one of the clips, all of which have since been deleted, he criticized Adams and his administration for his mental health and subway safety policies. “Mr. Mayor, let me say to you I’m a victim of your mental health program in New York City,” he reportedly said in another video. 

Police are still investigating a possible motive for the attack. In the meantime, Kelly said people have been understandably anxious about riding the subways for quite some time. 

“You look at the number of crimes that happen, of course, they’re minuscule in comparison to that population. But still they get so much publicity, and you are so confined in the subway,” he went on. “We’ve had these horrific situations with people pushed on the tracks … There is an understandable heightened concern about traveling on the subways these days.”

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In the wake of the shooting, Kelly called for a greater presence of police officers in the transit system, which Adams has already acknowledged he planned to do.

Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams’ office, said the mayor “has been abundantly clear that public safety is his top priority.”

“As the mayor has said, he is focused on both reducing crime in the city, as well as the perception of crime,” Levy wrote in an emailed response. “This won’t be done overnight, but we are taking some of the biggest actions in years to protect New Yorkers.”

In January, just days after young philanthropist Michelle Alyssa Go was fatally shoved in front of an oncoming subway train in Manhattan, Adams announced plans to step up mental health assistance in transit.

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“We have to do a better job in having those who are disruptive on this system, appear to have real mental health crises, Adams told reporters at the time, “to give them the services they need and not leave them on the system.”

Go, a 40-year-old Asian American woman, was standing on the platform inside the Times Square subway station one Saturday morning when Simon Martial, 61, pushed her in front of an R train as it rolled in, police said. 

Martial was charged with second-degree murder and was later deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. As recently as Tuesday, prosecutors reaffirmed Martial’s unfit status. He remains in the custody of the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene until he is deemed fit for trial.

Weeks after Go’s death, Adams unveiled his “Subway Safety Plan” flanked by local and state elected officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul. The program was aimed at providing services to homeless individuals and those experiencing mental health difficulties, and targeting loiterers, turnstile-jumpers and criminal opportunists.

As part of the plan, the City also deployed 30 joint response teams to do direct outreach, in addition to the deployment of more officers.

Former Commissioner Kelly also emphasized the importance of a greater police presence in the subway, which Adams further promised in the wake of James’ alleged attack. But some, including Kelly’s successor, Bill Bratton, have said they’re interested in seeing what is actually being done, as opposed to what is being promised.

Speaking during an interview with ABC’s Bill Ritter earlier this week, Bratton said he hopes the city is “a little more precise” when articulating how many officers are already assigned to the subways.

People walk through a subway station in Manhattan on January 19, 2022, in New York City. 

People walk through a subway station in Manhattan on January 19, 2022, in New York City. 
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“There’s already about 35, 3600 cops down there,” he said. “I’ve kind of gotten a little lost as to what’s actually down there versus what’s being promised. They might articulate a little more what exactly is going to be below ground. But as important, what are they going to do?”

NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY SHOOTING ATTACK TIMELINE

Bratton further said Adams is proposing ideas that have worked in the past, but is forced to contend with other agencies and officials who “don’t get it” or “don’t realize how bad this city can, in fact, get.” 

Adams’ office did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital request for comment. 

New York City Police Department personnel gather at the entrance to a subway stop in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

New York City Police Department personnel gather at the entrance to a subway stop in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Dr. Dorothy Schulz, a former captain for MTA-Metro North Railroad Police, worked for the department until she retired in 1988. Schulz said the prevalence of individuals with mental health issues on the trains is “hardly a new problem.” 

Schulz, a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, recalled sitting down for countless meetings with mental health professionals about the issue, but said the burden of responsibility was consistently placed on police, rather than the mental health community.

I’m going to be very open and say, I mean the mental health community has completely dropped the ball on this,” she told Fox News Digital. 

“It’s gotten worse,” she added. “I am shocked and really disgusted, to be quite honest, as to how the mental health establishment has escaped any scrutiny through all of this.” 

The latest NYPD statistics, released Monday, show transit crime is up 66.8% year to date as of Sunday compared to the same time in 2021, with 398 compared to this year’s 664 and counting. 

Last year, the MTA reported its highest number of murders and felony assaults since the agency began keeping track in 1997, records show

Joe Giacalone, an adjunct professor for John Jay College of Criminal Justice, attributed the prevalence of those with mental health issues in the subway system to those who are “slapping a Band-Aid on things” or promising one thing and doing another. He further described how Mayor Adams has so far been “all talk and no action.” 

Giacalone cautioned the public from “painting every incident with the mental health brush.” 

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“There’s a lot to be said about this Frank James,” said Giacalone, who is also a former NYPD executive officer who boasted 20 years on the job. “He had extensive planning. He had gas masks. He had smoke bombs. He had a plan to get there.”

Fox News’ Marta Dhanis contributed to this report. 

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