Queens council members call for expanded mental health services to ensure public safety

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Queens council members Robert Holden and Joann Ariola are urging the city and state to expand and utilize Kendra’s Law, which provides patient care for people with mental illness who are unable to safely live in a community without supervision.

The two council members announced their support for state and city leaders to expand this legislation after a meeting with the Commission on Public Safety and Commission on Civil and Human Rights earlier this month. Representatives from the NYPD revealed during that meeting that 47% of those arrested for hate crimes this year had been deemed an “emotionally disturbed person” (EDP).

Kendra’s Law was initially proposed in 1999 after 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train and killed by a Queens man with a decades-long history of mental illness. Holden said that as the city sees more crimes like this, it is time to make sure our courts are using this impactful law when needed. 

“It’s absurd that we are not using that law to do what was made to do: get people who are experiencing severe mental illness and are a danger to themselves and others treatment before they hurt someone,” Holden said. “It’s a good state law that’s already on the books, but needs to be used more often.”

Kendra’s Law gives courts the ability, after due process, to order outpatient care for individuals with mental illness as conditions of living in the community. Before the legislation was enacted, a person would have to become dangerous before mandating treatment. 

In the state’s $220 billion budget passed in April, the law was extended for another five years, since it was scheduled to end this July. The legislation was also expanded, allowing judges to mandate inpatient care. 

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams’ Subway Safety Plan proposed a review of Kendra’s Law and ensure it is being utilized effectively. Holden and Ariola both say that Kendra’s Law should be used more frequently to ensure safety and get people the help they need. 

“People who are experiencing severe mental illness and pose a danger to themselves and others will not likely look for help on their own,” Holden said. “This state law can help reduce violence, incarceration, homelessness, suicide and drug addiction.

Holden also referred to some horrific crimes seen recently in Queens, specifically the attack on a woman in a Long Island City subway station.

“We are seeing violent crime committed all over the city by people who are clearly mentally ill and need to be treated, especially on the subway,” Holden said. “New Yorkers should be able to ride a subway train without being shoved in front of one or pummeled in the head with a hammer.”

Ariola echoed this, saying that her constituents have been forced to deal with harassment and violent crimes from those suffering from mental illness. 

“Just last month, I went to a meeting where business owners told me about how they and their customers have been assaulted and their property vandalized by people who very clearly need mental health intervention,” Ariola said. “The people who are causing scenes outside of a supermarket destroy the quality of life for an entire neighborhood.”

According to the Manhattan Institute, the assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) mandated in Kendra’s Law has reduced the rate of incarceration and homelessness among those under court order by around 70%. 

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