New York City's coming "vagrant sweep"

(Adam Cotterell/Boise State Public Radio via AP, File)

It sounds as if there’s been a major policy change in New York City when it comes to the Big Apple’s persistent homeless population issue. All through the pandemic, the prevailing wisdom coming from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and the City Council was to find ways to get the homeless off the streets and isolate them to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hotels were commissioned to house the homeless and special vaccination pods were set up to innoculate them once the vaccines became available. Outreach officers were assigned to bring them in from the cold and special outdoor areas were set up to provide counseling and services. It was a difficult but fairly impressive effort by most accounts.

But now that the warm weather is returning and vaccination rates are rising, many businesses in the downtown district of Manhattan are looking to reopen and welcome back both workers and customers. The problem is that people are hesitant to go anywhere near the major transit terminals or ride on the trains. The reason for that is the large number of homeless people sleeping in those public spaces, some of whom regularly act violently or aggressively panhandle from everyone who goes past. So what’s the new policy going to be? Hizzoner has summoned up a new force of NYPD officers to go into Manhattan and perform a “vagrant sweep” to make the streets and transit centers safe enough for workers to feel comfortable returning. Maybe it’s just me, but the term “vagrant sweep” doesn’t sound terribly progressive, does it? (NY Post)

Mayor Bill de Blasio finally realized that defunding the police didn’t work out as he hoped — and has now ordered the NYPD to make Midtown Manhattan safe again so workers will come back after more than a year of pandemic lockdowns.

At least 80 uniformed officers and supervisors are expected to flood the area within the next two weeks after being redeployed from around the city to combat violent vagrants and other safety issues, sources familiar with the plan told The Post.

An NYPD deputy inspector will be in charge of the newly created “Business Improvement Unit,” which will be based out of the Midtown South Precinct, sources said.

So we’ve apparently transitioned from “we must protect the homeless at any cost” to a new plan of “roust those bums out of there” virtually overnight. And all it took was a few phone calls from the CEOs of the businesses who can’t get their workers to come back and start firing the economy back up. Choosing to call the new police task force the “Business Improvement Unit” probably tells you all you need to know.

The NYPD was quick to assure everyone that this wasn’t their idea. The plan was hatched in the Mayor’s office in consultation with community business leaders. They have been pleading with the Mayor for months now to “crack down on criminals and vagrants running amok around Penn Station and elsewhere.” Faced with the possibility of even more businesses moving out of the city and taking their jobs with them, Bill de Blasio appears to have changed his tune pretty quickly, and he’ll be sending in the brute squad to get those ne’er-do-wells out of the train stations pronto.

But will the brute squad be up to the task? Keep in mind that this is the same mayor who already significantly defunded them and shut down the city’s plain-clothes violent crime unit over complaints of police violence. The total number of available uniformed officers is down significantly and demoralized cops aren’t exactly excited about getting out of their squad cars. I’m guessing that all it will take is one lawsuit against a cop for roughing up a violent homeless person in Penn Station before the appetite for “sweeping vagrants” decreases significantly.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses… Just keep them out of lower Manhattan where the tourists tend to hang out. Critical liberal philosophy is looking mighty situational at the moment.