In an effort to reduce violence in New York’s overburdened homeless shelters, City Hall has assigned the Police Department to retrain the security staff responsible for maintaining order in the shelter system.
Security at the more than 250 homeless shelters across the city is the responsibility of a staff that includes more than 400 peace officers as well as private security guards. The shelter system is notoriously dangerous, so much so that worries over safety prompt some homeless people to sleep on the street or in subway cars rather than in a bed at a shelter.
At a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday, James P. O’Neill, the Police Department’s chief of department, said the peace officers would undergo three-day training sessions while supervisors would spend five days in training to brush up on de-escalation and other tactics.
Steven Banks, the commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, said that peace officers had the power to make arrests and that many were equipped with Tasers. But, he said, the Department of Homeless Services wanted to “take a fresh look” at all of its security — including the peace officers and private security contracted by nonprofit organizations — “a structure that had built up over many years.”
In January, a resident of an East Harlem shelter, a former librarian with a history of mental illness, was found dead with his throat slashed. One of his roommates at the shelter was the suspect. And last year, a former resident of a Bronx shelter abducted the shelter’s director, forced her to undress and shot her to death as she tried to escape him, the police said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the safety plans on Tuesday, which marked the end of a 90-day review of homeless services that he ordered as he continues to grapple with stubbornly high numbers of homeless people.
Under the review, the Department of Homeless Services reclassified what have been called “critical incidents” reported inside the shelters, Mr. Banks said.
He was testifying at a City Council hearing where some council members said they were concerned with the increase in the number of homeless people and the violence in the shelters.
Critical incidents were previously narrowly defined, focused on life-threatening incidents, but have been broadened to include incidents like child neglect. The review showed 1,687 incidents, including 826 considered to be violent, in 2015. Under the old system, just 620 incidents were considered critical, Mr. Banks said.
In addition to the retraining, the Police Department will place a management team at the homeless services agency to develop a plan to strengthen security.
The review also found that domestic violence accounted for 60 percent of violent incidents in the family shelters with children and 80 percent in adult family shelters. Last month, the police charged Michael Sykes in the stabbing deaths of his girlfriend, Rebecca Cutler, and her daughters, Maliyah Sykes, born in September, and Ziana Cutler, 19 months old. Ms. Cutler and her children had been staying at a Ramada Inn on Staten Island, which the city was using because the shelters are so full.
The city will bring back a program that provided domestic violence services in shelters that was ended in 2010.
Mr. de Blasio said in a statement that his administration promised to be transparent about the challenges of homelessness. “For the first time, we are reporting thoroughly on the problem,” he said.