Pre-Arrest Diversion of Homeless Individuals

Pre-Arrest Diversion of Homeless Individuals

Pre-Arrest Diversion of Homeless Individuals
Seeking Shelter in NYC Subway Trains and Stations

Focusing on low-level arrests of homeless individuals in the subway appears to be an area ripe for public health-style interventions that can divert those suffering from behavioral health challenges from arrest to health-based programs that provide access to treatments and additional housing services. A majority of subway arrests are disposed of at arraignment, preventing opportunities to assess the health and social service needs of these individuals that would occur during a brief stay at Rikers Island.  In 2013, 85% of the top three charges (Theft of Service, Unauthorized Solicitation and Lying Outstretched) for subway-based cases in the high-volume Midtown South Precinct were disposed of at arraignment.

Cross-Sector Collaborations:

Stakeholders from around New York City convened in 2014 to design an alternative-to-arrest diversion program focused on individuals seeking shelter within the city’s subway trains and stations.  Municipal Government partners included the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), New York City Police Department (NYPD), NYC Department of Homeless Services, New York County District Attorney’s Office, and the New York City Transit and Metropolitan Trasportation Authorities.   Academic and non-profit partners included John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), Vera Institute of Justice and the New York Academy of Medicine.  The working group analyzed arrest patterns and resulting court dispositions, train system delays and existing homeless outreach resources before scanning national best practices in pre-arrest diversion practices and protocols. 

Single adults in New York City have “right to shelter” based on a 1981 court settlement, and DHS contracts with local non-profits to facilitate placements for those in need.  Since the pilot project launched in October 2014, BRC outreach workers and NYPD Transit officers have jointly patrolled high-volume stations and train cars across four boroughs and successfully removed over 800 individuals and relocated them to health and housing services throughout the city.  Many of these individuals were found to be chronically homeless and placed in transitional housing programs with robust supportive services to ensure retention.   The teams average about 130 joint patrols each month, and make contact with thousands of individuals each year, representing a significant mobilization of resources to address the persistent challenge of homelessness in the city.  BRC Outreach efforts are jointly funded by DHS, MTA and DOHMH. 

Making Pre-Arrest Diversion the “New Normal” for NYPD Transit Officers

Robust engagement with NYPD’s managerial and front-line transit officers before and throughout the project served to further strengthen the working relationships between BRC, NYC Transit and NYPD, and regular cross-trainings of NYPD officers and BRC outreach workers have bolstered fidelity to the joint-patrol model designed by the working group.  In preparation for the busier winter season, BRC facilitated 10 trainings to more than 200 officers in late 2015 and early 2016.  Recognizing the strength of this collaborative model, NYPD recently designated officers in each of its Transit Districts to serve as liaisons to homeless service providers and participate in these types of joint patrols. 

This policy innovation project was cultivated under the From Punishment to Public Health (P2PH) initiative umbrella, with support from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and other members of the P2PH Steering Committee.  For more information on P2PH and its policy innovation and interdisciplinary research projects, please feel free to contact Jeff Coots, P2PH Director, at or 212-484-1157, or visit our website at