Roosevelt Island News

Defund RIOC Public Safety

Defund RIOC Public Safety, not because of any bad behavior, but because it just makes sense. Even without the budget crunch.

By David Stone

How many times must we see it and similar examples?

It’s Saturday afternoon, and New York City’s perched perilously on success at fighting COVID-19. The rules are well-known. No active team sports allowed for now.

But here’s cluster of about a dozen young men on Pony Field, no one social distancing and not a face mask in sight, but a soccer ball rests on the grass.

A PSD vehicle approaches. They never walk or bike around anymore, just cruise with windows up. And passes the athletes without a word.

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It echoed a similar scene last Sunday in Blackwell Park. Playgrounds finally opened, and residents take advantage. But none of them, adults or children, wear masks.

Yet another marked PSD vehicle slowly eases by on the path, not twenty feet away, and does nothing. Not even a shouted reminder.

And last year, without a health crisis, we throughly documented Public Safety’s inability to deal with countless bike and eBike violations on Main Street, a situation that’s grown worse.

RIOC Public Safety Officers hand out bike safety flyers
Last Wednesday, PSD officers made an unusual appearance, handing out bike safety flyers on Main Street. But it was to no apparent effect as daily violations continue without any enforcement. Apparently, we’re on an honor system.

So, why do we have an expensive force of 55 gobbling up over 10% of RIOC‘s budget… and your money?

Defund RIOC Public Safety Because It’s A Bad Bargain

“I was out twice today before noon,” noted one longtime local resident, last Friday. “The lack of visible PSD remains staggering.”

That’s right.

What’s even more noteworthy is PSD’s routine invisibility. You can find them overseeing entry to the farmers market on Saturday, and once in a great while, uniformed officers post notices and hand out flyers.

But what I call my “trifecta” is more normal. That is, during my daily walks around Roosevelt Island, looking for things to report, listening, I went three straight days without seeing a single officer. In a car or outside of one.

You don’t have to wander around town for an hour or more to see it. All you need do is read Public Safety monthly reports. They list all activities.

May’s report, posted for the most recent board meeting, shows 167 “incidents,” and that’s three per PSD employee.

For 31 Days.

What’s considered an incident is even more instructive. Well over half of May’s, 91, were either standing by while outside EMT’s responded to calls on the Island or handling lost and found.

PSD payroll: 55 individuals. Budget: Approximately $4 million, roughly 12% of RIOC’s total, the majority of which is collected from residents without consent.

Budget Crunch Perspective

Although it’s long been clear that PSD is wildly overstaffed, the better reason for defunding RIOC Public Safety is the reality of 2020.

As acting president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes reported at last week’s RIOC board meeting, the state agency faces big shortfalls.

Tram ridership is down, costing hundreds of thousands per month, and investment income vanished as COVID-19 arrived.

Add to that the stress of escalating insurance costs, and the message is clear: RIOC needs to find savings and fast.

Defund RIOC PSD and Save

Unless you consider negligence misconduct, there’s no cause to criticize PSD. It’s officers are routinely polite and well liked, and it’s leadership with Chief Kevin Brown is capable.

But there’s just too much of nothing.

A staff of 55 and a $4 million budget would be hard to justify in the best of times. In the worst, it’s impossible.

RIOC will also need to cut elsewhere, but management can seize the moment by addressing obvious excess.

PSD’s officers appear well-trained, but they don’t have enough to do.

And when there’s a chance to act effectively, for whatever mysterious reason, they don’t.

Defund RIOC Public Safety and move on. The time is right for change.

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