NEW YORK CITY — Advocates and elected officials took to City Hall Wednesday morning demanding that the city put a stop to numerous warrant sweeps they say the NYPD is conducting across city shelters.
Representatives from the Legal Aid Society said that although the NYPD denies it, there have been seven reported warrant sweeps conducted by police across city shelters.
The sweeps only manage to “discourage homeless New Yorkers from seeking out public programs and services, endangering their lives and consigning them to hidden and public spaces where services are not available," according to the Coalition for the Homeless, which runs a shelter inspection program across the city, and Legal Aid, which represents them.
The coalition, along with representatives from the Manhattan Borough President’s office, City Councilmen Carlos Menchaca, Stephen Levin, Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Jumaane Williams, and several other nonprofit groups, stood at the steps of City Hall calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the NYPD from conducting the raids.
The Fort Washington Men’s Shelter on 651 W. 168th St. in Washington Heights, according to the coalition, has been the most frequent target, with three warrant sweeps since the beginning of the year. The first took place in the spring, although no specific date was provided, and then recently again on July 10 and July 17.
In the latest raid in the Fort Washington shelter, according to the coalition, “law enforcement shouted threats and waved Tasers, frightening residents before making an arrest.”
During the incident prior to that on July 10, “several officers with vests marked ‘warrant squad’ raided the same shelter and arrested eight unsuspecting individuals who were there seeking housing, food and essential services,” the coalition said in a statement.
The remaining shelters raided were the 30th Street Men’s Shelter in Manhattan and the Kingsboro Star/Kingsboro MICA and Bedford Atlantic in Brooklyn, the coalition said. The 30th Street Men’s Shelter was raided on March 23 and April 1, while the two Brooklyn shelters were hit shortly after on April 6 and April 7, respectively.
Joshua Goldfein, of the Homeless Rights Project with the Legal Aid Society, said the coalition and Legal Aid met with the city’s Criminal Justice office in June and the city confirmed one of the raids took place and agreed the warrant sweeps were against city policy, but wouldn't tell the group how often they have been conducted.
Goldfein said when police go into shelters seeking people for serious crimes, it is "something they need to do." But for old, “misdemeanor warrants that the court prefers not to have to deal with,” Goldfein said “this is nonsense.”
He said in addition to it deterring people from coming into city shelters, the warrant sweeps also "use a lot of police time and a lot of court time, and the result is that the cases get dismissed. There’s no real criminal justice being served here."
Isaac McGinn of the city's Department of Homeless Services told DNAinfo Thursday the "alleged incidences" cited by the coalition were conducted to identify specific individuals with open felony warrants or to address specific criminal activity or pursuit of a suspect.
"It's not the policy of the City to conduct warrant sweeps in shelters—earlier this year, we reinforced that," McGinn said, adding "that 'warrant squad' activity targeting a single or a few specific clients for serious alleged crimes is very different than a 'warrant sweep' targeting many clients and without regard to seriousness and or to specific alleged crimes."
"That’s a smart thing to do and it will not stop," McGinn said. "At the same time, we’re redoubling efforts to help homeless New Yorkers clear old warrants for low-level, non-violent offenses so they can get jobs and move into permanent housing.”
J. Peter Donald, assistant commissioner for communication for the NYPD, told DNAinfo, “The NYPD does not conduct general warrant sweeps in shelters, as we have said several times before."
DHS said the 30th Street Men's Shelter incident from March 23 was a "single incident" involving a DHS police officer and the arrest of six people connected to open warrants in the shelter.
"It was not clear whether the officer was abiding by the City's policy," DHS said. "At the time we reiterated and reinforced the city's policy. He is no longer working for the agency."
The agency said it had no record of the April 1 incident.
The events in Brooklyn, DHS said, were "conducted pursuant to a request" from the local precincts, with the April 6 incident being related to a "specific criminal" incident and April 7 having to do with a burglary pattern.
As for the Fort Washington shelter, DHS said it only has records of the July 10 and July 17 incidents. The first was to arrest an individual wanted in connection with a June 20 slashing and the latter was to bring the person wanted to a hospital "to comply with the mental health/hygiene order."