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CB3 Member on NYPD Nightlife Squads: “A Bunch of Goons Harassing People”

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Community Board 3 Member and bar owner David McWater, railed against the NYPD’s specialized “cabaret” enforcement squads last week, calling them a “bunch of goons going around harassing people.” Another CB3 member, Meghan Joye, also a bar owner, agreed, saying a visit from the cabaret unit, almost always resulting in steep fines, is like being “shaken down by the mob.” Their comments came during a community board meeting, in which next year’s NYC budget priorities were being discussed.

The community boards prepare lists, ranking (from 1 to 25) a wide range of projects and initiatives they would like to see funded in the next fiscal year. Number 6 on this year’s proposed list: restoring the cabaret units, which were largely phased out last year. CB3’s funding request said: “Bar owners have reported that continued relationships with experienced police allow them to work with (the Police Department) and report problems without fear of negative consequences.  This protects the businesses and promotes public safety.” But McWater lobbied to push the request far down on the list, and he succeeded. In the final document voted on by the board, the item fell to #19.

The NYPD claims the units weren’t eliminated but redefined to deal with a wider range of “quality of life” issues. But CB3 members say Police officials have conceded during private consultations that the teams were, in fact, disbanded in several precincts due to budget cuts. In arguing that funding should not be restored, McWater said “I think we need to send a message that we want the police to use their resources properly and not against the people who are paying a lot of
taxes and who are trying to do the right thing.”

But another CB3 board member and bar owner, Ariel Palitz, disagreed, saying her experience with the cabaret units has been very different. “As opposed to being targeted repeatedly,” she said, “I have actually been protected by the police from people who were making irrational claims against me.”  Board member David Crane added, the units “function as a specialized unit that can distinguish between what’s a problematic establishment and what are problem clients at an establishment. Without it there’s a problem.” Several other members argued the squads should be funded, but not at the expense of other priorities, such as programs for young adults transitioning out of foster care programs.

McWater, however, insisted that the squads are a threat to the neighborhood’s economy. “We’re perilously close to wiping out the largest tax base in the Lower East Side. Is this really what we want to do, (have bars raided every) Friday and Saturday night and giving them tickets for fruit flies instead of funding libraries, when potentially those tickets are going to destroy the only industry we have down here? McWater said typically bars must pay about two-thousand dollars, plus legal fees, after a police department raid.

The board also voted to move down another item, funding for decibel meters, used by Police to enforce the NYC noise code, passed into law in 2007. According to the CB3 document, the “NYPD has yet to purchase decibel meters and train staff to enforce this over 2-year old law.  CB 3 continues to far exceed any other community board in number of NYPD commercial noise complaints.”

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  1. Thanks for covering this. I wonder if any statistics were provided on many bars have been closed by excessive ticketing? Any? If not, then the complaint is not about supporting a threatened business, but enhancing profit to an already profitable business by deregulating it through weakened enforcement.
    As for tax revenue generated by the bars, it does not come back to the neighborhood. It goes to the city. And the reason the bars are “the only industry we have down here” is largely because the bars have driven out everything else.
    But the important question is whether the proliferation of bars has done the neighborhood more good than harm. No doubt the bars have raised real estate values here, both commercial and residential. In fact, the creation of destination nightlife has skyrocketed real estate values and undermined residential and daytime commercial stability. Much of the residential space is now devoted to transient singles and many perfectly viable businesses have been pushed out by the highly lucrative bar industry.
    On the positive side, the bars have made money for the bar owners, provided jobs for bar tenders, created a nightlife scene and transformed the image of the Lower East Side from an edgy fringe neighborhood to a popular and lively mainstream singles hangout.
    If there’s no evidence that only nightlife can thrive here — in fact the evidence is to the contrary — then I see no reason to deregulate an industry that undermines community.

  2. This is a bunch of bull, bars bring in one thing in our neighborhoods, large crowds who don’t respect that this is a residential area and people are sleeping, they leave their litter, bring a lot of noise with quite a bit of disruption to an already unbearble situation. I’ve heard of people living over bars not being able to rest and when they complain they are harrassed by the owners so I don’t want to hear about bar owners being harrassed, I’m sure they are being harrassed because they have a bad record already with the police.

  3. It’s a good point, Rob. I’ll ask David McWater what evidence he has that the fines have resulted in any bar closing down. It’s important to note that CB3 is still asking the city to bring back the “cabaret units,” although they made it a less important priority than a lot of other things. As a practical matter, especially given yesterday’s election results and NYC’s pending budget crisis, I really doubt the cabaret squads are coming back. I think you’re absolutely right that the key issue is the impact of bars on the LES. Right now, Senator Squadron and CB3 are drilling down on the neighborhood’s retail woes. They want to know what kind of businesses can survive here. In testimony before Squadron’s committee, more than one witness said sky high property taxes force landlords to keep rents so high that only businesses with high profit margins (ones that have a liquor license) can survive. I’m sure not everyone buys that argument.

  4. In CD3 many daytime businesses thrived on local patronage, but couldn’t compete with the new trend of bars, which thrive on a far wider non-local patronage and have a much higher cash flow. As long-term commercial leases come up for renewal, the old long-term businesses just disappear. Jeremaiah’s and Grieve’s blogs are devoted to recording the unrelenting loss. These were viable and useful businesses needed in the community, they just couldn’t compete with bars.

  5. The East Village is a perfect example of the vicious cycle that bars create; a successful bar opens, appears to all to be a cash cow, when “regular stores” leases come up, landlords raise the rents exponentially in hopes of getting a bar. Eventually the neighborhood is a shadow of itself, just a facade, with no real retail businesses that residents need, just a slew of bars and restaurants with an old neighborhood feel. There used to be several fishmongers in the east village (not the prettiest business, but if you want to eat fish…). Now there are none. One must go to Whole Foods, or Citarella, neither of which is a mom and pop, and both multiple location chains. These types of businesses, fishmongers, variety stores, laudromats, tailors, etc are the direct casualties, but the residents who depend on these businesses also suffer; they are left without a place to get the things they really need, must go farther and pay more for it, and must suffer revelers riding roughshod over their neighborhood and their right to live peacefully.

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