Monday, September 05, 2011

Impact Zone Officers Abuse Authority and Harass Local Residents on Franklin Avenue Rooftops

(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.


  1. WOW - great post.

    I'm stunned.

  2. A week ago, I was having a few late-night beers on the stoop with my friends, all of us in our thirties. Cops came by, tried to issue us open-container summons -- even though we were behind the gate.

    Since the police tried to issue me a summons a few years ago based on this, I knew my rights: I told them that since the building had fewer than six units, they couldn't issue us summons. We were not in public, per se. They barged into my house and went stomping up and down the stairs. Because we have two doors on each floor (for one apartment), they accused me of lying -- even though we only have four mailboxes, plain as day.

    Long story short, the cops hung around for 45 minutes, ran IDs and then made me apologize for "escalating" the situation. Happy Friday night, indeed.

  3. When I read this post, I feel as if I am reading the journal of explorers who have just discovered a "new" world.

    If you want to do more than push the border of where the police have unquestioned authority eastward, make sure you pick a side in the upcoming lawsuit!

  4. Hey now, MikeF, I've covered stop-and-frisk on this blog before, as well as impact zone excesses and other bad NYPD behavior. I'm trying to contextualize this stuff as part of a pattern of police harassment, not act as though this is a new and unique phenomenon. Getting a bogus open container summons is a huge pain in the ass, but compared to what happens all the time, a cynic might say it was a relatively lucky break - other folks get their heads cracked on police cars for jogging across Franklin Avenue in a hurry, or get stopped, frisked, and humiliated for having the wrong skin color, gender, or t-shirt. I wish this was new territory, but it sure as hell isn't.

    Thanks for the lawsuit link - I'll bounce that up to the original post.

  5. I should have given credit in the above comment to reader #2, who acknowledges everything I said in their own recounting of the incident. Still, there's something about the rooftop thing (and yes, of course, this is certainly not the first time that the NYPD have skulked around on a roof) that adds an extra layer of Big-Brother/Police-State sludge to the whole situation.

  6. I'm aware of your other pieces, and have made similar comments on them. I like that you try to make people think about issues that they would otherwise ignore.

    Don't take it personally, I'm amused when ever I hear people express surprise at things that are considered routine elsewhere in NYC.

    "OMG, what I've heard about has just happened to ME."

    There is nothing wrong with pushing the borders eastward....

    It is a part of classic pattern: With the help of those who have just arrived, old timers finally have the power to demand more police protection. Eventually, the tide changes and the police are seen as abusive. The police then are told to leave.

    Next stop Nostrand Avenue?

  7. MikeF I think you completely missed the point. This is not a case of the young white people wanting to have their roof parties and suddenly having an awakening but another of a long list of examples of police all over the city not even knowing the laws they are suppose to enforce.

    Am I shocked to hear about this? No. But the point is that this is very big brother and police state tactic. I think it just needs to be brought up again and again (thanks ILFA)what it really means to have such a police presents in ANY neighborhood and how should matter to everyone!

  8. I am all for "being denied the right to drink on a roof" getting adding to the list.

    Should we make the Police State list sequential, or rank order it?

    ...or should we just enjoy the parade, and be glad we continue to be at low risk of being one of the 24 people shot in the last 24 hours?

  9. I am Reader #1, and wanted to share my experience not because it is a new phenomenon that I have recently become aware of (I am the criminal defense lawyer), but because I want to see how many other people this has happened to in the area so that it can be addressed more effectively. What happened to me, and what I think has happened to many other people in the area, is a unique pattern of police intimidating residents who spend time and/or drink alcohol on their rooftops. This is not the same as stop & frisks, although in terms of police abuse there are similarities - police abusing their positions of power to intimidate and harass law-abiding residents. I don't think its an acceptable way to interact with a community, and I think if we try to address it as a larger group of people we will be more effective in reaching a solution. Many people are pushing for greater police presence in the area, and I understand that concern, but police need to follow the laws too!

  10. For fun, do a search on Brooklynian.

    In 2005, (when the site started) you'll find people complaining about the police doing vertical patrols in buildings where it is not permitted on non FTAP buildings on places like Carlton.

    Then you'll find a slow eastward trend in the complaints, as the tactics are reduced in the west and folks with "ahem, regular internet access" continue to move eastward: Vanderbilt, Underhill, Washington, ...and now Franklin.

    Good luck trying to telling the police how to do their jobs.

    Like the police themselves, you'll always have work. ...and folks like me will continue to cheer you on.

  11. The Civil Liberties Union lawsuit is addressing the implementation of 'Stop and Frisk' policy, and not the legality of the policy itself. It's clear that the behavior of the police highlighted in this post is illegal according to law already in place. The police are trespassing against citizens' rights.

  12. In this thread, I see MikeF mocking & disparaging Nick, not "continuing to cheer him on." MikeF is engaging in some gaslighting. But that's a tangent.

    Relevantly, MikeF also argues that the police are effective when using these tactics, i.e. "we" are safer because of them. I imagine that is what the cops believe too.

    Personally, I don't see how what's been described has any place in effective policing. This is the kind of behavior by cops in low-income communities that results in an atmosphere of paranoia and suppressed rage. Not safety.

  13. Marcus-
    I completely agree with the part about it dividing groups into camps: The police versus everyone else.

    However, the gaslighting isn't really me, and it won't be the first time I get accused of things I am not guilty of.

    Where is that defense lawyer?

    Gotta love it :)

  14. What if people recognize the pattern of police behavior and conclude they can do nothing about it, or it isn't something they care about?

    Can we imagine them as being part of the problem?

  15. Nick,

    You are only having have half of the conversation here. There is another conversation that dovetails this:

    The cops in IMPACT are not big brother, they're working stiffs with an increasing demand to meet quotas and have more and more of their discretion taken away from them. Police discretion is a good thing. People don't like that because it comes with so many negative connotations, but the fact is this is a dirty, dangerous, and frequently yet alternating boring/nerve racking job.

    Now on top of all that, imagine you're specifically told that you must make one arrest and find 30 different people, minimum, to cite. That's what the harassment is, shit rolling down hill onto citizens, and that's the conversation that needs to be have. Cops don't want to lose their jobs, so they are forced into blanket bullying/citing/ticketing/arresting through Compstat/"Productivity Goals" ie: Quotas. Cops are too busy sniffing out minor infractions to keep their jobs rather than talk with the locals/walk their beat/observe and investigate. NYPD brass like to have clean identifiable "markers" of how "crime" is doing in their precinct. Good policing is not a quantitative or even at times qualitative career, and when you are forced to do that, what you get is this: A NUMBERS GAME.

    I'm sorry but this is a fact that won't change without a combined forced effort onto the Captain/Higher Ups.

    Might I add, that rooftop surveillance in and of itself is not a bad thing. It's one of the best strategy for catching incidents on the street. There's no kid able to give out a signal.

    I am begging this community to have the representative explain how quotas create good citzen relations.

    8-15 cops per shift, 3 shifts per day per precinct, 30+ tickets minimum per officer a month=THIS. A good cop can make a good arrest/citation/ticket. A cop under duress will do whatever the boss says to do. Same as any job.

  16. Yup, it all leads to a feeling of being under seize coupled with lots of "mistakes" being made.

    A mistake at today's very violent parade:

    The financial cost of the mistakes:

    The societal cost of the mistakes:
    People feel as if they live in a city which they arrested and fined randomly, and the police are to be avoided, not trusted.

  17. I am actually glad that police in our area are looking more carefully at what happens on top of roofs, although they should be doing it legally. There are several people living on roofs during the summer, I myself had someone living on my roof and throwing a bag of feces every day into my backyard. It might sound outlandish, but my neighbors who have lived in the area a lot longer told me that it is a recurring problem and that cops rarely respond to complains.

  18. Mike glad you agree, now how can we go about rectifying this? How can we go about getting the dept brass to be accountable and to admit that the bureaucracy intended to combat individual officer corruption, has swung to it's own Kafka-esque extreme. There are good cops in our neighborhood, they don't want to hassle us for this crap either. That said, again, they should be checking out rooftops and staking them out occasionally. Like in the double homicide that just happened.

  19. If I knew the answer, I wouldn't be sitting here. All I can do is refer you to folks who seem to be searching for answers in intelligent ways:

    Center for Court Innovation
    Brennan Center for Justice
    Center for Constitutional Rights
    the NYPD Patrolmans Benevolent Association
    the NYPD Detectives Endowment Association
    The members of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
    the professors of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
    the various schools of social work, psychology, sociology, etc.

    ...feel free to add to the list, it could go on for pages.

  20. don't kid yourself. there is support for this kind of action on behalf of the police. & not just so they can make quotas. this from the brooklynian blog:

    "Surprisingly over at CH thread they have folks wining about cops raiding rooftop parties. I bet said complainers haven't been around the nabe during New Years."

    reminds me of discussions around laws supposed to combat terrorism post-9/11. most americans were willing to give up their rights to stop the terrorists. bet there are a lot of people in CH willing to do the same to stop the gang-banging thugs. they don't think that they would ever be seen as one of them terrorists or one of them gang-bangers, so why not? it's only when youre in the crossfire that you start thinking, hey, maybe letting the police do whatever they feel is not a good idea.

  21. Two quick thoughts:

    First off, @9:13, your point about quotas being a big problem and a driver of bad police behavior is well-taken. I'm not arguing the "bad apple" theory here, and I absolutely think these kinds of tactics and pressures to "produce results" are handed down from above (the NYPD tapes made that very clear very recently). Sadly, it seems that top brass and many politicians have come to see arrests and summonses, rather than safe streets and safe citizens, as the "result of policing." Arrests are not results; they are tools to the ultimate end of safe neighborhoods, and just as a hammer will often do more damage than good, arrests (or stop-and-frisks, or summonses) aren't always a step in the right direction.

    One other thought about rooftops: I'm not saying the police should never leave ground level, I'm just saying they should do so within the boundaries of the law (as Reader 1 has said several times now). If a party is out of hand or someone is throwing feces off a roof, by all means, call the cops, invite them in, and have them handle the situation, hopefully professionally. If there's a sting to be made, let them go through the proper channels to post a recon man on the roof. I just want warrants, probable cause, and the actual needs of the community to be part of the equation, and I'm not comfortable with home invasions, trespassing, and illegal surveillance.

  22. What exactly do you want from the police? They are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

    They are not the ones who commit crimes and assault people.

    Saturday night was crazy parties in CH and I will say this: in any other area, those parties would have been broken up long ago - the cops were very respectful and very present. but they did nothing I think becuase they didnt want to cause any tension.. so give them a break..

  23. While Crow Hill Community Association is here to help with problems in the community, there is a much more direct forum for complaints of this nature: the 77th Precinct Community Council meetings. The next one is Monday September 12 at 7:30 pm, it will be held at the Calvary Community Church, 1575 St Johns Ave at Buffalo. During the course of the year the meeting does rotate throughout the 77th Precinct and yes, this one is far away BUT this is the place where you can voice your concerns DIRECTLY to the precinct. We urge anyone who has questions to attend.

  24. MIKE718-
    Yes, on many levels, the police are often damned if they follow the law and even more damned if they do not.

    Despite being in such situations, we expect them to always do what we consider to be "right". The problem lies in the fact that there is (and never will be) agreement as to what "right" is.

    I think everyone believes it is reasonable that we hold the police to a standard that is higher than criminals, but many in this city are justified in their view that the police are no better than they those they arrest.

    Ah, to be a cop in NYC. A masochist's career choice! In my opinion, this letter sums up the view of many in blue:

  25. police abusing power? never! lol.

  26. you ingrate person. these cops risk their lives on the street to keep your neighborhood safe. as you can see from the west indian day parade, there are dangerous people in your neighborhood. the intent of stop and frisk is to get weapons off the street. if you feel violated because of stop and frisk policy, that is the price to keep your neighborhood a little bit safer. United States is not a free country. have some empathy for these cops. don't be so self-centered. cops don't want to harass people. if you feel that way, imagine your neighborhood if there were no cops around. you wouldn't even be living there. you wouldn't be loving franklin avenue

  27. I've had some fantastic interactions with officers on Franklin, and I've had some infuriating ones. Cops are people, just like the rest of us, and while I recognize the inherent dangers of their job, that's no reason to sit quietly when they do it poorly, breaking the law and making the quality of life in the neighborhood worse for everyone in the process. Assuming these officers chose their careers as consenting adults, they should face the same consequences the rest of us do when we break laws or screw up on the job.

    That said, I'm not of the opinion that this behavior is the work of "bad apples." I think it's the result of a numbers-driven policy from above that conflates the tools of policing with its goals and seeks a narrowly-defined vision of order at any cost. It's upsetting that police will abuse their authority and break the law in this quest, but it's not surprising - when you have a hammer, all you see is nails. It is, however, incumbent upon civil society to keep these abuses in check by reporting them, following up on them, and punishing those who perpetrate them, from the top down.

    Are there gray areas officers must navigate daily? Absolutely. Is it an extremely tough job? Absolutely. But there's nothing gray to me about officers trespassing, threatening law-abiding citizens, and issuing bogus tickets. If that makes me an ingrate, so be it.

  28. I love the magical concept that you could punish cops from the top down.

    While there are some beat cops who might enjoy using their power "to trespass, threaten law-abiding citizens, and issue bogus tickets", why do you think the other cops act in this manner?

    ...because their bosses told them to?

    Likewise, why do you think their bosses are telling them to do this?

    ...because they think "good, hardworking folks" are better off with these policies and practices in place?

    Likewise, why do you think the public tolerates such actions, whether they are legal or not?

    Here's a few reasons from the today's Brownstone readers:

    To stop the behaviors you describe, you need to convince all of these folks that the police are doing a bad job.

    If you haven't already the letter from the cop, it sounds as if he won't be convinced easily,

    When you propose punishing those at the top first, you may be actually talking about the city's voters.... They may be getting what they want.

  29. Anonymous @ 3:38pm: You seem to have forgotten that we do not live in a police state. The Constitution of the United States (which I'm sure someone with your politics often insists we uphold) protects citizens against unreasonable government intrusions, including unreasonable searches and seizures. We are a nation of laws, and the police must follow them too! There are lots of people who risk their lives to help society as a whole, including police, but also firefighters, members of the military, correctional officers, a whole host of people who work in violence-prone areas. That does not give people who work those jobs the right to unnecessarily harass and intimidate law abiding citizens. There are laws that regulate how and when police can make contact with citizens, including when they can stop them, frisk them, search them, and arrest them. Obviously, if I was threatened by a person on the street, I would call the police. But what happens when you are threatened by the police? Who do you call then? They need to be held accountable for their actions so that they continue to serve and protect us, not become the people we are scared of!

    And, by the way, the subject of the original blog was not stop & frisks, but police entering private property, intimidating tenants and their guests for no reason, and falsely claiming they were violating the law. That behavior is very different from having a reasonable suspicion that a person on the street did or is about to commit a crime, and is armed and dangerous - that is the standard to be able to stop and frisk someone.

    If you desire to live in a place where the police have unlimited power in the name of "safety," which I guess is what you mean by "freedom," then go live in China, or Iran, or a whole host of countries that don't have the freedoms we do in the United States. The real freedoms that we have been blessed with in this country includes the freedom from unreasonable state-sponsored harassment, which is exactly what the police are engaging in here.

    September 6, 2011 3:38 PM

  30. "Unlimited power in the name of safety". It certainly sounds scary, but are we certain that is where we are going? it or not, the bill of rights is a living document subject to a lot of interpretations.

    What if the consensus is that the majority do not wish to leave the US, yet are either willing to tolerate a society with reduced freedoms, or actively support same?

    What if the police breaking the laws you describe is implemented with the consent of the majority, and it is libertarians who are trying to impose their version of what society should be on the majority?

    As long as we are using such terms, such as "unlimited power" is living under a "powerless state" better?

    It will be interesting to see how the judge decides in the stop and frisk profiling suit.

    I'd also be interested in seeing what (if any) damages a landlord and his/her tenants would be awarded if they sued the police for trespass and unreasonable search and seizures based on entering a building hallway and roof of a non-FTAP building and issuing a summons for drinking on the roof.

    ....let us know how it goes.

  31. I'm 9:13, lets just say I have a better understanding of whats going on and MikeF, Nick, and myself seem to agree on a lot of things. I can't attend the community meeting for very specific reasons. But I am telling you, if you do no put pressure on the CO if you don't get him, council woman et al on record, in public admonishing quoatas....if you dont get the rank and file on your side none of this will change. That is the only solution.

  32. it's just like The Wire

  33. Haha, 9:13, why would we just believe you at your word that you have a better understanding than anybody else? You have super powers of knowledge?

  34. I don't know, try putting two and two together dude.

  35. Oohhh, you are a big bad cop? Or a former cop? Too bad you don't have enough integrity to stand up and say in public that the quota system is bad for public safety, not to mention prohibited when its tied to consequences, like it currently is. And just because you are a cop or a former cop, you think you know more than anyone else? That's the real problem, police officers think they are above everyone else in society. I wouldn't break the law, even if my boss told me I had to or I would be fired. I would rather suffer and support my family in a different way than be a pushover by some corrupt sergeant. Too bad you can't say the same.

  36. Yay troll baiting! I forgot to bring peanuts!

  37. 9:13 has made significant, intelligent, and well-supported contributions to this thread. Personally, I had not thought about how quotas effect this issue on the street.

  38. can we hurry up and find an enemy?

    We are losing readers that don't want to see both sides.

  39. of course quotas are behind the police behavior! read this village voice article to learn all about the NYPD quota system that the NYPD and city denies exists:

    sorry 9:13, you don't have to be a cop to know about that, and im not sure that is an excuse anyways, more like an explanation

  40. .....Yes, brilliant you've discovered I was explaining the process. Trying to help illuminate both sides of an issue, the lot of you seem keen on finding one incident, labeling it as "x", and moving on. Believe it or not, people think this job is easy. By the way, there are countless examples such as that one single Village Voice article. It's all ignored by you- the public at large. Police officers can and should not dictate public policy changes, the voters should. Allow me to anticipate your reply, "Cops are voters too. Yes, all 30,000 of us, over half of which don't live in NYC." Out of 8 million.

    You don't have to be a MOS to know that either, and I've never stated I am, but you do need to have a nuanced conversation first with your self and then with your community to figure out how to properly and legally apply pressure for these things to change or if you want them to change. Quotas and COMPSTAT didn't start out bad, it was a tool to fix individual corruption. Now the pendulum has swung the other way and new tools need to be conceived.

    And if you were an officer, yea- You'll go quit my job to make the anonymous poster feel better.

    There's no clean and easy bad guy here. Be an adult. I'm not writing back to this crap anymore, yall figure it out.

  41. I am done here too.

    Anyone know when the new brick oven pizza opens?