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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Roosevelt Island Residents Rally Last Sunday Alleging Public Safety Department Providing Fake Stats & Ignoring Public Lewdness Incidents - RIOC And RIRA PSC Respond Denying Allegations

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Public Safety Department (PSD) came under criticism for allegedly:

  • providing "fake" crime statistics, 
  • responding slowly to a resident's assistance call for a public lewdness incident and 
  • not taking additional public lewdness incidents seriously 
during a rally held last Sunday, February 18 in front of Roosevelt Landings at 510 Main Street.

The rally was organized by resident Joyce Short and attended by an estimated group of 10-14 people as well as off-Island media including NY 1.

Among the allegations made by Ms. Short at the rally:
... It's in RIOC best interest to show this community as being crime-less because that way Cornell can develop here, Related Hudson can develop here and they can attract people to the community by looking like we are a very safe place to live. The Public Safety Department, I'm not saying they're doing a terrible job, but they are not doing the job we need done in this community...

... They are not reporting these things as the crimes they are. The end results are the statistics don't give us the police protection we need because statistically we look like a very, very safe haven. We are not saying that we are loaded with crime here but we need more protection than we're getting. Don't tell us that we live in a safe place and don't ignore sex crimes that go on in this community....
I asked if any of the other residents attending the rally had personal experience with fudging statistics by PSD or any other problem with PSD.

One resident mentioned a suspicious Christmas Eve fire in her building that is unresolved, another indicated a belief that some residents are treated more leniently by PSD if they are known to the officers and another indicated safety concerns in the Roosevelt Landings building due to inadequate security such as unlocked doors and no front desk concierge.

Ms Short noted a recent incident when an assault case was classified as "aided".

Here is video of the Rally and statements by participants.

I asked Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Public Safety Committee Chair Erin Feely-Nahem to comment on these allegations. Ms Feely-Nahem replied:
On Sunday, 2/18/2018 RIRA member Joyce Short held a public protest with about 10 people. The small action alleged a Public Safety Department (PSD) cover-up of a pattern of public lewdness, including public masturbation, as well as deficiencies in PSD handling in one specific case that occurred in 2017. There have been up to five reported cases over the past year that have been reviewed by PSD leadership and discussed with the RIRA Public Safety Committee (PSC). Their review counters and challenges the idea that a widespread pattern of behavior or cover up by PSD leadership has occurred.

The PSC has engaged RIOC, and the leadership of the PSD, in discussion of this issue extensively, including with the survivor present. There were several regular PSC meetings where the issue of sexual harassment and lewd pubic behavior was vigorously engaged. Dialogue, although tense at times, was not only possible but productive. Solutions to errors were found and changes have been and are scheduled to be made.

Although numerous mistakes were made on all levels, the RIRA PSC does not support the allegation of a PSD cover-up, or a widespread pattern of such behavior on Roosevelt Island, from the documentation we have seen.

During discussions, the PSD Leadership acknowledged deficiencies in numerous areas, initiated by the miscommunication of the Officer who answered and logged the original request for service incorrectly. Chief McManus and Deputy Director Brown have showed a willingness in dialogue as errors were discovered, as well as an openness to find solutions and take corrective actions.

The PSC has urged RIOC and the PSD leadership that there be, in collaboration, a Town Hall meeting where Islanders are provided with the opportunity to discuss this question and will continue to present RIRA’s willingness to host such an event.

While we defend all Islanders’ right to protest any grievances, we also feel that the broad charges thrown out by Joyce Short need to be backed up by fact. The PSC would point to the example of the successful effort in 2013-2014, which she opposed, where the Keith Guerra Administration of PSD was removed after the PSC and the community documented, with facts and testimony, a genuine pattern of abuse and brutality. Joyce Short has not shared with the PSC any documentation that justifies her allegations and appears to be swinging blindly.

The PSC would invite residents who have experienced acts of public lewdness, reported, or not, to let me know. Your confidentiality will be respected. This shouldn’t happen to anyone, and we must, as a community, be able to safely take actions to stop it. If this is a larger problem then it appears to be from the reported cases, let us gather testimony and facts so we can bring it to the PSD leadership and find solutions.
In response to my inquiry, RIOC Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson reports:

A recent public protest concerning the Roosevelt Island Public Safety Department (PSD), its procedures for collecting crime reports and how it reports their statistics has generated questions requiring a response.

The allegations against PSD center around accusations of suppressing reports about public lewdness incidents on the Island.

On September 7, 2017, a resident called PSD to report a suspicious person masturbating in a 10th-floor hallway of the Roosevelt Landing housing complex. The complainant stood nearby and used her cellphone to take a four-minute video of the incident before the officers arrived. After interviewing the woman and canvassing the area, the alleged suspect could not be found.

In addition, once the video was turned over to PSD, and later to New York Police Department (NYPD) officers who also responded to the scene, it was not possible to identify the individual as there were no images of his face.

The subsequent report about the incident was filed as a suspicious person incident with a full description of the lewdness act of masturbation. The PSD computer report filing system did not include a lewdness category in its dropdown options at the time and accordingly, the incident was recorded as suspicious activity. That has since been corrected.

The PSD and RIOC spent more than 20 hours and attended a host of meetings with the victim, RI community-organization leaders and others discussing this incident, reviewing the video, discussing the dispatch call and response as well as a thorough review of all suspicious person reports since 2016.

Three other lewdness incidents were found to have been reported during that 24-month period. No suspects have been arrested in any the incidents, but per policies, PSD has submitted evidence to NYPD against a person of interest in one of the incidents.

Erin Feely-Nahem, chairwoman of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s Public Safety Committee and a participant in some of the previously-described discussions, recently said in a statement to The Roosevelt Islander news blog that she “does not support the allegation of a PSD cover-up or a widespread pattern” of (lewd) behavior on Roosevelt Island.

The PSD is committed to responding patiently and compassionately to all community concerns about this or any other incidents and is proud of its efforts to keep the community the safest place in the safest big city in America.
Ms Short adds:
NY One's report on yesterday's rally had several errors. More than a dozen people rallied to show their concerns about Roosevelt Island's public lewdness crimes and Public Safety's penchant for minimizing RIOC's crime statistics.

When one victim reported the crime and her concern that she may have been stalked, the female desk officer said, "Don't worry; it happens all the time." Two male officers expressed agreement. Yet when he was questioned about their comments, Chief McManus shook his head and said, "I don't know why the officer said that. It's not true. She shouldn't have said that."

In fact, four public lewdness incidents had been reported within a one year period. None of those four cases were recorded as Public Lewdness on the Public Safety blotter. One of the four victims said that when Chief McManus contacted her, he suggested she keep a lid on the information so as not to alarm the community. The fifth public lewdness crime took place the following month. It was the only one filed correctly because of the outrage demonstrated by members of the community.

Lt. Cabasso incorrectly characterized the same victim's behavior as "She refused NYPD and EMTs." On the night of the incident, PSD did not offer or suggest that she contact NYPD, nor did they contact NYPD themselves. The following day; however, when she returned to the PSD office to express concerns about having been stalked, they finally contacted NYPD. She waited 45 minutes for NYPD to arrive. EMTs came, not NYPD. She was not physically injured; therefore, she did not need the escort to the hospital that they offered. She had to get to work and could not wait any longer for NYPD. They finally came to her house three days after the incident.

Lt. Cabasso also adamantly insisted the victim had simply asked for an "escort,"instead of pleading for help during a sex crime. The victim did not even know that PSD provides "escort" services. What she said in her emergency phone call was "He has his penis in his hands and he's masturbating. Please help me!" Although the two responding officers were in 510 Main Street, and the crime was in progress right there in 540, just steps away, it took them 7 minutes to get to the victim. They casually strolled up to her with no urgency. She showed them the footage of the offender's actions caught on her camera while she crouched on the floor, paralyzed with fear. Her video clearly indicates the offender's actions. Never-the-less, PSD's report was filed as "request for service." It took several meetings with RIOC to convince them to change their report to Public Lewdness.

Today, rally participants demonstrated that the distance between 540 and 510 Main Street, is 19.5 seconds.

Lt. Wanda Koleman spoke with the victim on the morning she returned to the Public Safety Office. The victim expressed concern about PSD's slow response. In her description of the victim's behavior, Lt. Koleman tried to cover up their delay by stating that the victim refused to cooperate because the responding officers were female. When Chief McManus told me this, he also said that the two female Officers, under Lt. Koleman, corroborated Koleman's story.

I went back to the Public Safety Department with the victim to review the video of the lobbies, which, in fact, PSD only secured at the victim and my request. Because Chief McManus had told me the victim had not wanted to speak with female officers, I asked her, whether she wanted to request speaking to a male officer when we returned to see the footage. She looked at me puzzled and said, "No, I'd rather speak with a female officer. I think they'd be better at understanding how I feel." It was only then that I informed her about what Koleman and the two other officers claimed. She was astounded that they'd say such a thing and it totally destroyed her trust in the Public Safety Department. Cooperative duplicity about a victim's behavior puts every Roosevelt Islander at risk.

One of the public lewdness crimes took place in the Westview courtyard. PSD filed that report as "trespass." They apprehended the offender and got his name. He bolted. They have either not subsequently arrested him or have not disclosed his arrest to the community. We are entitled to know what measures are taken to insure our safety here.

I am aware through, a Commander at NYPD, and through a former PSD Officer, that the Public Safety Department under-reports crimes on Roosevelt Island. Enough is enough. We are growing in population. We need at least one police booth on Roosevelt Island, manned 24/7 by an Island-assigned NYPD officer. Stabbings, shootings, assaults, domestic violence, public lewdness and other crimes all have taken place multiple times on Roosevelt Island within the past year. They happen intermittently, and when they do, we need real and immediate police presence, not a response coming from somewhere in Queens.

RIOC President Susan Rosenthal has said time after time that we don't need additional PSD staff, even though Cornell Tech will expand our population by 7,000 people and Related/Hudson is building two more buildings. In my discussion with her about the public lewdness problem, she showed me the crime statistics for the community in order to back up her claim. I indicated that if you can turn a "He's got his penis in his hands and he's masturbating," into a "request for service," I can't believe a single statistic on that report." The recent assault of a 16 year old girl on Main Street, that the PSD blotter reflects as "Aided," not "Assaulted," is another example of RIOC's continued interest in under reporting crimes stats in our community.

I filed a complaint with the Inspector General. I'm sure RIOC will do everything they can to get this case dismissed. A petition will be circulated here in the community. Please sign it.

It may be necessary to continue demonstrating in our streets until RIOC, The State of NY, and NYPD get the message; Roosevelt Island deserves appropriate police protection. Please come out and help when the next rally takes place.
As previously reported, the NYPD 114 precinct says Roosevelt Island is a very safe community.

Here's the January 2018 Roosevelt Island PSD Incident Report and Statistics.

The Daily Incident reports are published on Roosevelt Islander sidebar column.