Saturday, February 23, 2013

RIOC Board Director Margie Smith's Statement On Roosevelt Island Public Safety Accountability And Brutality Demonstration - Update, Director Howard Polivy Comments Too

Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board Director Margie Smith comments on February 16 Public Safety Accountability and Brutality Demonstration:
It’s close to impossible to write anything about this past Saturday’s demonstration in the church plaza that will be acceptable to all parties, but as a Board member I felt I needed to acknowledge it in some way. The thoughts expressed here are mine alone, but I know several other board members share my sentiments. I was away this past weekend so I didn’t attend the demonstration, which was triggered by an incident that occurred a few weeks ago between a resident and the Public Safety Department. Unfortunately, because RIOC has been served with a notice of possible litigation, I can’t comment on that specific incident.

I can, however, say that from what I’ve been told by residents, the reason for the demonstration went beyond that one incident. That tells me that the community is concerned about Public Safety’s role on RI and its actions in the performance of that role.

First, as for the incident that sparked the demonstration - RIOC has referred it to the Inspector General of the State of NY for review. Once we receive the results of that review we’ll take whatever action is deemed appropriate. In the meantime, I can tell you what measures RIOC takes to monitor all departments, including Public Safety, within the corporation.

I want the residents to know that we’re very much aware of, and very concerned about, the relationship between Public Safety and the community. The goal of the Public Safety Department is to make all residents feel safe in their homes and on the street. If, for whatever reason, there are residents who don’t feel that way, then we have to fix that.

We’ve taken some steps toward that goal, but we know there’s lots more to be done. There’s been a longstanding request by the community to establish a Civilian Review Board. This is not something that we can do alone since it must include independent members, not just RIOC staff, and it must have some kind of authority sanctioned by either the City or the State in order to be effective. We’ve been supporting Assemblymember Micah Kellner for over a year in his effort to get a law passed establishing just that kind of board. We’re doing everything possible on our end, and I’m asking all residents to contact Assemblymember Steve Englebright at 518-455-4804 and the Speaker of the Assembly, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver at 518-455-3791 to express support for the bill.

As I write this letter, RIOC is preparing an RFP (Request for Proposal) to hire a firm to do an independent audit of procedures, policies, and overall performance of the Public Safety Department. We’ve done this in the past in other departments, like Transportation, Finance, etc. and the results highlight deficiencies, identify Best Practices, and make recommendations that can be implemented to improve the performance of that specific department. We should have a firm selected shortly and we’ll speed the process along as best we can without sacrificing quality.

In addition, we understand that RIRA may be proposing that we all work together with a facilitator whose expertise is in working with community groups to have better working relationships. We intend to work collaboratively with RIRA in whatever they ask of our organization in this regard.

What I ask of the community is that they use the avenues already in place and available to them to let us know of any issues that we need to focus on, and to keep themselves informed on what’s being done to address their concerns.
  • If there’s an individual complaint about the Public Safety Department, please file a formal complaint. If you don’t want to go to the Public Safety office to do this, use one of the other avenues described below.
  • Write to the RIOC Board of Directors at
  • Speak to the RIOC Board at the public session held before every board meeting. The schedule of board meetings can be found on the web at A notice of every meeting is also sent to the public as a RIOC Advisory. If you’re not signed up to receive the advisories, please sign up at
  • Attend any of the RIOC Operations Committee meetings. All of them are open to the public. Notices of these meetings are posted on the RIOC website and Advisories are also sent to the public.
  • If you can’t attend the Board meetings, or the committee meetings, they can be viewed by webcast on the RIOC website I urge you to watch those videos so you get a firsthand understanding of how and why decisions are made, and so you’ll know what actions are being taken on multiple issues.
  • While you can go to the RIOC office (591 Main Street) any time you want to speak with a representative of the corporation, specific hours are set aside for the public on Mondays between 3 and 5 pm.
As stated on the RIOC website, the mission of the Public Safety Department is “to provide a safe and secure environment for the residents, employees, business owners, community and visitors of Roosevelt Island, and to protect the property and interests of RIOC and the Housing Companies.” RIOC takes this mission very seriously and we want the residents of the Island to know that the board is listening to them and wants to have an effective working relationship between the residents and every department in RIOC. I believe we all have the same objectives, and I’m confident that if we work together we’ll be able to provide the best possible quality of life for all Islanders.
UPDATE 2/24: RIOC Director Howard Polivy adds:
I am writing from out of town. I missed the demonstration on Saturday February 16, but have seen pictures of the crowd assembled outside and inside Good Shepherd and have seen and heard the videos posted on the Rooseveltislander blog.

I am sorry that the accumulated grievances of years could not find better, earlier, resolutions. I was a member of RIRA’s Public Safety Committee before Keith Guerra was hired and have attended most meetings until just recently. I have heard the testimony brought to the committee and I ended many meetings asking that the complaints be made official, using the existing forms in Public Safety, and that I be advised that a complaint had been filed.

I believed that complaints had to be filed using the existing official forms so that they could have the necessary standing to be actionable under the PSD’s union contract if confirmed by investigation. Also, I felt the Directors could make substantive changes quickly when armed with substantial claims. I asked to be made aware of the complaint so I could observe procedures and be able to give assurance that the simple act of filing a complaint did not cause problems for the claimant and also that there would be a thorough investigation. To my surprise not one person followed through on this. I did not appreciate the fear of retribution that must have been felt for people to take so long to stand up for their rights.

There was testimony for incidents that arose during the Shane, Torres, and Lewis administrations but with so few actionable complaints it is hard to discover objective pattens and make corrections. I hope those willing to speak out last Saturday will also use the complaint system already in place, too, with forms that remain available in Public Safety and will soon also be available in the RIOC office, 591 Main Street. I directly receive emails sent to, so tell me that you’ve filed a complaint.

The Public Safety Department’s published statistics show a trend towards fewer incidents. Perhaps this indicates a lighter hand on enforcement and a more responsive department. But these conclusions also need to be examined. For this reason RIOC is moving forward, quickly, on an operational audit of PSD. The investigation will be independent and objective. All those with complaints will be solicited. The result of the investigation will be an accurate picture of the department’s weaknesses and strengths. Most importantly it will provide a blueprint for building am exemplary department, suggesting all necessary changes, with public accountability. I hope that this fast-track engagement is approved at the February 28th Board of Directors meeting.

I am unable to comment on any particular incident, partially because RIOC has been served notice of claim, but also because I don’t have objective details. RIOC has referred recent incidents to the Inspector General of the State of NY for review. Once we receive the results of that review we’ll take such actions as we find necessary. From the Inspector General’s website,

“The Inspector General's Office is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that State government, its employees and those who work with the state meet the highest standards of honesty, accountability, and efficiency.

You can file a complaint in any of the following ways:
  • You may call the Inspector General’s 24-hour, toll-free Hot Line at 1-800-DO RIGHT (1- 800-367-4448). This will put you in contact with trained staff who can discuss with you the specifics of your complaint.
  • You can use
  • You also can write to us at:Office of the State Inspector General
    Empire State Plaza, Agency Building 2 16th Floor
    Albany, New York 12223”
The stated mission of the Public Safety Department is to provide a safe and secure environment for the residents, employees, business owners, community and visitors of Roosevelt Island. and to protect the property and interests of RIOC and the Housing Companies. Success in achieving this mission depends on all stakeholder’s satisfaction. I support Micah Kellner’s refiled legislation to create an independent state review board. If that legislation fails to be enacted, I will suggest an ombudsman.

The better public camera system soon to be deployed will provide objective insight into PSD/public interactions. I hope we may balance the need for public autonomy and anonymity with the common need to secure shared community space for everyone in the community.

I regret the pain that has brought us to where we now stand. I am working to support processes that have begun that will refresh the Public Safety Department’s role in the community.

Howard Polivy
Member, Roosevelt Island Board of Directors


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