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.”