She had her phone pressed to her left ear as she got out of the elevator on the tenth floor of 540 Main Street, in Roosevelt Landings, where she’s lived for the past 20 years, so she didn’t notice him when she first walked by. It was late in the evening of September 7 and she walked down the hallway, put her bags down, and stopped at her door to look for her keys. That’s when she saw him: a tall man masturbating in the vestibule by the front elevator.
“I saw him, and I froze,” she said later of that moment. Then instinct kicked in. She grabbed her stuff and ran to the end of her hallway.
The victim, who asked to remain anonymous, says she called the Public Safety Department (PSD) from the end of the hallway, but that they were slow in taking her information. “I was frightened,” she recalls. “[The operator] kept asking me what apartment I was in, and I said, ‘Don’t you understand? What difference does it make? You need to send someone.’”
She says she also explained the nature of the offense in as many ways as she could, from the clinical to the crude, because PSD didn’t seem to understand the purpose of her call. Then she got off the phone, and she waited. She says she continued waiting for an excruciating seven minutes.
“I started getting angry,” she says, so she picked up her phone and made an over four-minute video of the perpetrator, who continued the act. “He wasn’t hiding. He was literally in front of the elevator.” Finally, she says, he finished and went down the stairwell.
Two officers ultimately arrived from a different set of elevators. “If they’d listened to me, they would have known that they could intercept him by coming through the front,” she says in frustration. She describes their walk as “defiantly slow.”
According to Joyce Short, head of the Roosevelt Landings Tenants’ Association, the incident underscores ongoing deficiencies in PSD. She believes several important changes need to take place within the department, namely, that emergency calls be recorded, and that an independent community review board for complaints against PSD be formed. She also believes the number of PSD officers are insufficient for the community, and that at least one officer per shift should be trained to deal with sex crimes.
According to RIOC’s general counsel Jacqueline Flug, the call log from that night reflects two calls: the first was a call for a possible escort, the second refers to a male exposing himself, and a need for escort. The incident report, however, confirms the complaint of public lewdness.
“Ultimately my words were twisted,” the victim says. “I didn’t even know escorting was a thing.”
She says that when she later asked PSD Chief, Jack McManus, why her call was downgraded to an escort request, he stood by his officers, suggesting that she might have panicked when she was on the phone, and failed to tell the operator what she thought she’d said. The PSD incoming call line does not record calls. He explained that the officers didn’t rush up to the scene because they didn’t realize what was going on, despite what was written in the call logs for the evening.
PSD isn’t commenting on the specifics of the incident, though they have said that they are working with the victim. Additionally, Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation President Susan Rosenthal said that PSD was conducting a thorough internal investigation of the September 7 incident and allegations by Short that officers mishandled the incident.
According to McManus and Deputy Kevin Brown, public lewdness is considered a class B misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 90-days in jail.
This hasn’t been the only incident of public lewdness on the Island recently. According to the RIOC blotter, public lewdness was reported on May 7, also at 540 Main Street on the tenth floor, but that the description the latest victim gave does not match that of the prior perpetrator.
“Roosevelt Landings pays the lion’s share of the PSD budget and it’s done because we don’t have doormen,” says Short. “PSD is our eyes and ears. First we have a sex crime in our building, and two weeks later we have a stabbing in our building. You can’t tell me that PSD is doing what it should to keep our building safe.”
Despite recent incidents, McManus points out that crime on the Island is fairly rare. “We can’t ask for more officers just because Joyce thinks we need them,” he says. “How do we ask for personnel with these numbers?” The numbers he is referring to are the Island’s crime statistics.
According to McManus, between 2014 and 2015, the Island saw a 36 percent decrease in index crimes, dropping from 53 in 2014 to 34 in 2015. (Index crimes are the eight crimes the FBI combines to produce its annual crime index. These offenses include willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, motor vehicle theft, and arson.)
Then, between 2015 and 2016, there was a 35 percent decrease, with only 22 index crimes reported. Currently, McManus says, we are above that number for 2017; we’ve had 25 index crimes between September 2016 and September 2017, though he doesn’t think it’s a trend.
“Crime has reduced ridiculously,” says McManus. “[The slight increase] is a result of our own success. We fight against our own numbers.” Brown said, “To even suggest that this is an unsafe place to live is beyond wrong; it is irresponsible.”
“We haven’t had a rape since I’ve been here – four and a half years. Same with murder. The grand larcenies are up a bit,” McManus explains. But according to Brown,“They’re up everywhere in the city.” He says they’re mostly scams and identity theft.
Of the crime that does happen on the Island, Brown says it’s mostly between residents. “There aren’t many strangers coming on the Island to commit crimes,” he says. “It happens when someone comes up from the subway, but it happens infrequently – once since I’ve been here.”
Short, however, doesn’t find the numbers as comforting.
“If you can take this [incident] and turn it into an escort request, then I don’t see how any of the statistics RIOC claims can be relied upon,” she says. She questions whether the department feels pressure to keep those statistics low by fudging their numbers.
To that accusation, McManus responded, “I wouldn’t do that if my life depended on it.”
He said, “I would rather be up there on the podium talking about an increase in crime than lying about it. I love this place. I spend a lot of time here. I know a lot of residents and I have no intention of leaving. I enjoy coming to work.”
Of the department’s reporting practices, Brown says, “We do more reports than the NYPD because often complainants don’t want NYPD involvement.” He also said reports are double signed, by the officer and the supervisor. “I read them all,” he adds.
Short says she’d like to see the creation of an independent oversight agency for PSD to respond to resident complaints, similar to what the NYPD has, rather than relying solely on RIOC for monitoring.
McManus, however, points out that NYPD very frequently partners with PSD on calls. “In most cases, the NYPD are going to be called,” he says. According to PSD, NYPD was called to follow up on the September 7 incident, though they were not called to the scene.
“RIOC’s PSD office has been working with the victim; however, investigations for unapprehended suspects are the province of NYPD and not PSD,” says Rosenthal.
As to when PSD’s involvement ends and the NYPD’s begins, McManus says there isn’t a hard and fast rule. NYPD involvement is driven by the type of crime and the follow-up needed.
For example, it is mandatory that NYPD get called when there is an accusation of domestic violence. NYPD officers are mandatory reporters, and they have Domestic Violence officers in each precinct to follow up with the complaint. McManus characterizes the process as a “seamless transition,” and says, “even if we were to make an arrest in a domestic violence case, we would follow up with the NYPD detectives, and assist the complainant with getting an order of protection.
“If there is need for further investigation, it is referred to the NYPD because they need to put it together and prepare it for court. We do that, but in something serious, like the recent stabbing, we definitely involve them,” he explains, adding, “Somebody urinating in public, not cleaning up after the dog, smoking reefer, NYPD is not gonna come for that.”
In response to the September 7 incident, McManus said his department would provide additional training to officers. “If [the complainant] felt the officers weren’t professional, we are working on that. We know the two officers involved, and we’ve never had a problem like that with them, but we will retrain them anyway.”