Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Roosevelt Island Public Marijuana Smoking Community Forum - Should Response Be Arrest Or Education?

Here's a small portion of tonight's 2 hour community discussion of public marijuana smoking with residents and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Public Safety Department (PSD). In videos below, PSD Director Jack McManus replies to questions and comments from those attending.

Will have the full video of event posted soon.

UPDATE 1/30 - Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Public Safety Committee Chair Erin Feely-Nahem said the following during the Forum:

Thank you all for coming out, and on such short notice. My name is Erin Feely-Nahem and I am the elected Chair of the RIRA Public Safety Committee.

We have called this meeting tonight, following the terrible incident on January 12, during which a mother was violently attacked, after asking a man to stop smoking marijuana, near a playground.

Although the violent attack remains an isolated occurrence, the first of its kind to have been reported to us, the question of the public smoking of marijuana was first brought to our attention last May, by a parent who expressed exasperation, at having encountered a man, publicly smoking a joint, while she was on her way to work. We began working on this project until the summer break, and continued in September, then again in November with the new Common Council members came aboard

Our discussions, supported by articles shared among committee members, indicated that an educational campaign would be a good starting point and would supplement the efforts of law enforcement, in light of the recent changes in the laws in both New York State and in New York City. Director McManus, who attends our monthly meetings regularly, was helpful in our discussions, educating us on the laws, and on the challenges officers’ encounter when enforcing them.

The recent changes in the drug laws in NYC and NYS, including the decriminalization for the possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, seemed to have led to misconceptions around the legalities of smoking pot in public.

We decided that we needed to go on a public campaign to respect and comply with the law on this question, which is that the public smoking of marijuana, like open-container public drinking, remains illegal, and violators are subject to summons and arrest.

Our efforts focused on halting public smoking in areas where children congregate. The committee voted to produce a flyer that was readable, educational, and respectful, targeting adolescents and young adults. Our message wasn’t telling them what not to do in a righteous tone, but rather educated them on the law and the consequences of ignoring it, then asked them to respect our children, and their rights to play in a smoke free area..

Inspired by RIRA’s SC&E children’s project “On Roosevelt Island We…” poster campaign, Joanna after speaking to Leila enlisted her son’s class to help us get the message out. Drawings were created that said things like “On Roosevelt Island We don’t smoke, because smoking will make you croak”. We believe that these posters will also encourage dialogue between the parent and their children.

Clearly the violent incident on Jan 12 unsettled the community. Undoubtedly the alleged perpetrator should be held legally accountable for his actions.

Tonight’s Public Forum provides a vehicle to identify our next steps. You, the public, concerned parents, should now seize the opportunity to be part of the solution, sharing your ideas with the PSC, on the ways in which to move forward on this question.

We have a not so distant history on RI from a few years back, which taught us the consequences of a punitive, “Zero Tolerance”, swat-team approach around issues like this. Under the prior administration, mothers were arrested at the tram for pushing their strollers through the gate, or others brutalized for making a u-turn on Main Street. We can deal with this question, of illegal, public pot smoking, especially in areas where children congregate, without going back to that misguided era.

Under Chief McManus, transparency is strived towards, and open communication encouraged. Following this Public Forum the PSC will be taking your ideas and incorporating them in our effort to continue to create smoke-free areas where children congregate. All are welcome to attend our monthly meeting. Our next meeting will be held Tuesday, January 31st, in the Westview Lower Community room, at 7:00pm. If you can’t attend next week, please remember that Monthly, the PSD leadership is invited to, and attends our meetings, always ready to listen to your concerns, and to be part of the solutions.
Resident Frank Farance adds:
I appreciate the efforts of Jeff Escobar, RIRA President, Erin Feely-Nahem, RIRA Public Safety Committee (PSC) Chair, and Jack McManus, PSD Director in their efforts to have a discussion with the residents, to hear their concerns, and for PSD and NYPD to provide insight. Ms. Feely-Nahem and PSD Director McManus both did a great job, and the questions and discussion from the audience was excellent. When I was RIRA President, in 2009 we had a similar forum, and it was helpful then to hear both the perspective of PSD and the residents (and equally well-behaved as last night's event). And we've had a couple more, notably the protests in 2013, in which we were able to address abusive tactics then, which has resulted a different paradigm of Community Policing in the 3.5 years since with the arrival of Jack McManus.

There were five very important moments, which are worth repeating for residents:

#1: The assailant was not a youth (he was middle-aged), and he was not from Roosevelt Island. And the event occurred at the seawall, not at the entrance of RI Day Nursery. And, it turns out there were Public Safety officers within a couple hundred feet (they were doing traffic control for the school), so they would have been there very quickly. So calling Public Safety is your best bet at that point, and don't engage with the person, e.g., taking a cell phone photo.

#2: In response to a question on leniency vs. aggressiveness on arrests/summonses PSD Deputy Director Kevin Brown summarized the issue well: the left side of the room wants me to arrest the person, the right side of the room wants me to be lenient, but you can't have two standards. While I am taking his summary point, there was a fair amount of discussion on this point and I believe the audience left with a better understanding of a complex problem.

#3: The managing agents from Island House and Westview and Manhattan Park were there. Doryne Isley from Roosevelt Landings could not attend, but she provided a statement. Some questions concerned building security, which led to some good discussion. Many of the persistent problems in the buildings (cigarette smoking in the hallways, pot smoking in the stairwells, noise) should be addressed in a three-way approach: the residents (as represented by their tenants association), the managing agent (who is responsible for enforcing the House Rules, not necessarily illegal activities), and Public Safety (who is responsible for law enforcement). Regardless, PSD Director McManus said he has a Open Door policy and will meet with residents (or exchange E-mails, if they prefer).

#4: The NYPD officers reminded the residents that Public Safety is the first responders, and PSD will get you the quickest response. PSD Director McManus stated that Roosevelt Island has the fastest response time of any community in New York City. It is very important for residents to report problems to Public Safety.

#5: RIOC is starting their third phase of camera deployment, which will include the east seawall behind Roosevelt Landings and Lighthouse Park.

I hope residents will attend the next RIRA PSC meeting, which is January 31 at 7 PM in the Westview (625 Main) Lower Community Room; and attend future monthly meetings of the committee.
There has been an arrest for the assault of Roosevelt Island Mom who objected to man smoking marijuana near children's playground.