(photo taken on ILFA's roof, where the lady and I frequently enjoy a PERFECTLY LEGAL drink with the permission of our landlord)
In the past two weeks, ILFA has received a pair of reports about officers associated with the Impact Zone on Franklin Avenue harassing local residents on their roofs without warrants or probable cause and in violation of the rights and privacy of these individuals. Their stories are reprinted below (names withheld). ILFA is deeply troubled by this unwarranted and illegal conduct on the part of the NYPD, and will be seeking answers from the 77th Precinct and raising this issue at the next Crow Hill Community Association meeting.
Reader #1: I live just off Franklin and went up to my roof last night where 2 police officers approached me, told me it was illegal for me to be on my roof, and that I could be arrested. They lied and told me the building was part of the F-TAP program, where landlords give police permission to do vertical patrols and arrest trespassers. I happen to be a criminal defense lawyer, so I told him he was absolutely wrong and that, as long as the landlord gave tenants permission to be on the roof, the police couldn't tell us otherwise. Anyways, I did a little research and found this may be a common problem - police entering buildings without landlord permission, and harassing and threatening tenants who are legally on the premises. When I threatened to call the precinct/landlord, the officer admitted that I was right, it wasn't an F-TAP building, and then tried to convince me that he was just trying to protect me from the criminals in the neighborhood. I understand the drive for police presence in our community, but the police should be called out when they abuse their power.
Reader #2: Last night I was having a quiet gathering of friends on my roof on Prospect Pl (and Franklin). At 7:30 two cops arrived on the roof next to our roof and we asked them what was going on. They said that there was a 'situation' that they had to look into and told us to wait until they could give us more information. We, of course, were under the impression that there was a criminal on the loose and this was a way their way of searching for him/her....we were a bit confused. About 5 minutes later, seven additional cops joined them and we learned that WE were the 'criminals'. They accused us of trespassing and told us that it was public space and that we were guilty of breaking the open container law. Initially they asked us to move to the garden (which we also have) but then as we were discussing the fact that the roof has been in use for years by tenants of the building, they changed their mind and made me (the only resident of the building) go get a copy of my lease to show them it was approved by the landlord. While I was doing this, all of my guests were required to hand over their IDs.
When I returned, one of the (rookie) cops threatened me with a $200 fine for all guests or a court summons for open container violation. I asked him to issue us a warning and he completely ignored my request. By the end of the 45 minute debacle, all of my guests were issued court summons. It was SO embarrassing and so unnecessary. We literally were a group of 30 and 40 somethings having a dinner party.
I feel people in the neighborhood should know. I'm not entirely sure how the roof is public property and I am entirely sure that those cops were overreacting. I know others have suffered worse with this police presence (i.e. Kevin's arrests) but the neighborhood should know about this situation. The cops said they were on another rooftop watching out for roof visitors (who knows).
ILFA: Just in case this isn't clear enough: the NYPD is wasting our tax dollars conducting illegal surveillance, trespassing in order to accuse law-abiding citizens of the same, and lying to, harassing, and violating the rights of residents of our neighborhood. I wish I could say I was shocked, but the past few years have made clear that the NYPD considers itself above and outside the law and that many of our elected officials are eager cheerleaders of their police-state tactics. (Update: MikeF, in the comment below, draws welcome attention to the Center for Constitutional Rights' lawsuit regarding the NYPD's stop-and-frisk quotas, which hopes to challenge the ongoing criminalization of Black and Latino youth in New York City, including on Franklin Avenue, where Impact Zone officers conduct these unconstitutional searches all the time. The sad truth is that these two incidents are part of a decades-long pattern of police abuses that are a daily threat to many communities, including Crown Heights).
This appalling state of affairs, however, should not preclude fresh outrage. ILFA has expressed ambivalence about the Impact Zone before, but provided some measure of support for efforts to preserve it out of a deep and abiding respect for the Crow Hill Community Association, which has done so much for Crown Heights and which supports the Impact Zone on Franklin. As these latest reports demonstrate, however, the officers who patrol Franklin are not answerable or accountable to the community, organized or not. This sort of policing is not making anyone safer, and it must cease at once.
If this sounds a little aggressive, consider whether you want to live in a city where police conduct warrantless rooftop surveillance in order to disturb peaceful gatherings of people in their own homes. Sounds more like Tripoli under Qaddafi, no?
If you have been a victim of this type (or another type) of police harassment, our first reader, a criminal defense lawyer, offers this advice: "If your landlord gives you permission to use the roof, there is no law saying you cant be on the roof, and if the cops claim it is an f-tap building, they are required to post signs saying no trespassing, tenants and guests only. And even then, obviously, tenants have the right to be in places approved by the landlord, including the roof. People should ask for the name and badge number of the officer, and contact CCRB if they think the officers abused their authority."
Reader #1 also passes along the following links regarding the F-TAP program (noting "all it really allows police to do is arrest people who are trespassing without asking for landlord permission for each individual. But again, if you are a resident of your own building, absent an emergency requiring police to clear an area, residents have permission to be anywhere in the building that the landlord has approved. There is absolutely no general penal law prohibiting people from being on rooftops of their buildings.") and what to do if you're stopped by the NYPD (courtesy of the New York Civil Liberties Union). ILFA urges everyone to educate themselves on these matters, so as to better protect yourself and your rights if you, too, are made a victim of NYPD abuse.