Mayor Eric Adams has directed city agencies to involuntarily hospitalize severely mentally ill people deemed unable to meet their basic needs—even when they pose no threat to themselves or others.

The mayor’s announcement, which represents a major shift in policy, was criticized immediately by a chorus of civil-liberties attorneys, mental-health experts and advocates for the homeless.

“I know some people may look at what we’re doing saying that we are trying to do something to take away the right of people,” Adams said at a City Hall news conference. “No, we’re not. The right is that people should be able to live in dignity.”

Adams said he sought to dispel the “myth” that an individual needs to be an imminent danger to themselves and others before law enforcement and first responders can forcibly transport them  for psychiatric evaluation.

“That is just so irresponsible that we know that this person is about to probably go off the edge and harm someone, but we’re going to wait until it happens.” he said. “Not in this administration. We’re going to be more responsive. We’re going to be clear. We’re going to be compassionate. But we’re not punting this issue.”

Adams framed the policy change as part of a long-term plan to address untreated mental illness, with the goal of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of city agencies under the state’s Mental Hygiene Law.  

The directive will be accompanied by specialized training for city employees and the development of a tele-consult line police officers can use to consult mental-health clinicians when responding to people in crisis.

“We are clearing up the uncertainty that is attached to what we’re asking our workers to do,” Adams said. “It gives one the comfortability they need to carry out their function.”

“Adams continues to get it wrong “

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the order will empower city agencies to choose coercion—not the compassion Adams cites.

“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,” she said

When asked if this would target homeless individuals, Brian Stettin, senior City Hall advisor on severe mental illness, denied that the directive would result in sweeps. “A range of factors” will be taken into consideration when assessing a patient for involuntary hospital admission, Stettin said. He did not offer specific criteria apart from known treatment history.

Dr. Philip Yanos, a professor and clinical psychologist who specializes in mental illness stigma at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the NYCity News Service that the new directive “may lead to more tragic situations in which individuals posing no threat are killed by an officer as they resist being involuntarily detained for the crime of having a mental illness.”

Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said she sees the mayor’s plan as shortsighted.

“Mayor Adams continues to get it wrong when it comes to his reliance on ineffective surveillance, policing and involuntary transport and treatment of people with mental illness,” she said, urging the city to focus on expanding access to voluntary psychiatric care and making more vacant apartments available to unhoused individuals.

The plan is largely dependent on available psychiatric beds. The city currently only has 50 at its disposal. 

“We need beds. There’s no getting around that,” Adams said, calling on private hospitals to assist in providing space for involuntarily admitted patients. 

Adams urged New Yorkers to be “trauma identifiers,” a variation of the city’s “See Something, Say Something” anti-terrorism campaign. 

 “We’re going to do our part, but we need everyday New Yorkers,” he said. “If you see someone in crisis, be a trauma identifier and assist that person with the resources that this city has available.”