OD Prevention

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene assigned 20 Special Officers outside two new Overdose Prevention Centers, but the agency quickly moved the officers from the posts after Teamsters Local 237 filed an improper practice petition with the Board of Collective Bargaining over safety concerns.

Special Officers who were moved to two newly-opened Overdose Prevention Prevention Centers in Manhattan were reassigned three weeks later on the day that Teamsters Local 237 filed an improper-practice petition with the city Board of Collective Bargaining contesting the transfer.

About 20 Special Officers working for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were sent to work at Washington Heights Corner Project and New York Harm Reduction Educators in East Harlem Nov. 30, soon after those facilities were opened. Neither was run by the department, according to the union.

Partial Fix for Crisis

The Overdose Prevention Centers--the first in the nation--are sites where people who use drugs can do so safely and be connected with treatment and medical care. The facilities opened to help address an opioid crisis after the city suffered more than 2,000 overdose deaths in 2020.

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In its Dec. 22 petition, Local 237 stated that Health Department officials “refused to bargain with Local 237 and unilaterally altered the terms and conditions of employment, when, without notification to the Union, DOHMH reassigned Special Officers to a special ‘undercover’ detail outside of these drug injection sites.”

The officers, who also worked alongside privately-contracted guards, were instructed to report to work in plain-clothes. They were also equipped only with DOHMH vests, radios and Oleoresin Capsicum spray, according to the complaint.

“Prior to this time, DOHMH Special Officers had no [plain-clothes] detail,” the petition stated. “In this undercover capacity, without their equipment, and in plain-clothes, DOHMH Special Officers are acting outside the scope of their duties.”

Raised Safety Issue

The union also highlighted safety concerns, stating the Special Officers were posted outside the facilities even though they typically worked inside. 

The petition asked the BCB to order the city to “cease and desist assigning Special Officers to undercover detail outside of injection sites” and to bargain with the union over “any proposed change to the essential duties and functions” of the Special Officers.

But the day the complaint was filed, the Special Officers were moved from those posts, according to Local 237 President Greg Floyd.

“We had concerns about the members being placed in positions they weren’t familiar with because they were out in the public, not in uniform and unarmed,” he said. “[The city] took a look at our complaint and they settled it."


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