1st Precinct's Top Cop Talks Police Role in Handling Downtown's Homeless

In an undated file photo, a man beds down on Greenwich Street. Photo: Donna Ferrato

Nov. 04, 2019

At the most recent meeting of the 1st Precinct Community Council, Capt. Angel Figueroa, the commanding officer, answered questions and spoke at length about how the 1st Precinct handles complaints about homeless encampments, and aggressive behavior by some people living on the street. Following are excerpts from his discussion, edited for length.

“It’s a multi-agency approach.”

We’re trying our best to work with as many agencies as possible. The Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Buildings in the case of the scaffolding where they have a little safe haven. Unfortunately, [at Fulton and Gold Streets] they tend to hang out because services are being provided up the block at the Department of Homeless Services. 

“Offering social services is the first priority.”

Understand one thing. Our first and foremost priority is to offer individuals services. So we can’t just kick people off the street and say get out of here and find another spot. It’s, “Hey, do you want services? And 99.9 percent of the people say no. When the weather gets colder, I would predict it will go down to 99 percent. A lot of times they just refuse to talk to us. “Get out of here. We don’t need your help.” If they say yes, I’ll put them in a police car and get them a bed for that night. It’s not in the Jenga Building but it’s going to be a bed and it’s probably going to be somewhere in Manhattan. 

“For an arrest, we need a complainant.”

If the goal is to remove this person from the street, to either jail or the hospital, then that’s another level. And that threshold usually involves a complainant. If you say the guy assaulted, then it’s clean cut. That’s cause for arrest. A guy just spit on me. Technically speaking that’s not an arrest. That’s harassment.

If we see that they’re going to cause injury to themselves and others that’s when we can take it to the next level, when they become unstable. If they’re not obeying authority then we can take it to the level of getting them psychiatric help. 

But you have to understand what’s happening here. We’re literally taking somebody’s liberty away from them and pulling them off the street and we as police officers are determining that this person is mentally unstable, and they may very well be. But based on what? If we have a complainant stating that they were actually a victim of a crime or a victim of a possible harassment with a mentally unstable person we want them to step forward and we’ll proceed accordingly. Because then we’re going to say it’s based on this person’s account. 

“If it’s an encampment, we can knock it down.”

We know what an eyesore looks like and we do cleanups when necessary. There is no encampment that is allowed. It could be a blanket, it could be a cardboard pulled over somebody’s head. We have to eliminate that. That’s a policy here in the 1st Precinct. We will go there and say you cannot have an encampment. 

Blocking traffic is disorderly conduct. I can give you a summons or I can give a warning. If it’s an encampment we can give them a summons and knock it down.

If there’s garbage that would be cause for a cleanup. It’s a multiagency cleanup where they’ll get the Departments of Homeless Services, Sanitation, and Mental Health and they all get coordinated within three to seven days. We all come on one day and we will legitimately say you can no longer be here. If you want to be in the streets you have to come with us and we’ll get you a bed. That’s a forceful removal. We will forcefully remove those individuals unless they will willingly leave on their own. We can do that. Unfortunately they could come back.

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