By Karen Rempel
On August 13th, the 6th Precinct of the NYPD held a “Build the Block” community discussion at the AIDS Memorial Park at West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue. About 40 masked neighbors attended, including half a dozen folks from WestView News, to speak with a handful of NYPD Neighbor Coordination Officers (NCOs). Police Officer (PO) Maureen Carey led the discussion, with PO Nolan Connor and Sergeant Daniel Houlahan also answering questions from the audience. In addition to complaints about noisy street restaurants and polluting car idlers, the main focus of discussion was about the homeless people’s increased presence in our neighborhood.
I shared the story of what happened on July 1 at my friends’ place on West 10th Street (see “Stoop the Poop” in this issue). Sergeant Houlahan said it was too bad the police just drove by. He explained that if a homeless person is committing a felony, the police must witness it themselves to lay charges, or have an eyewitness point to the person in their presence. For violations, they can issue a charge without witnessing. I’m not a lawyer—and I doubt very many in the assembled crowd know what constitutes a felony and what a violation—and the information didn’t have meaning to me. But according to our good friend Wikipedia, open or public defecation is a criminal offense that can be punished with a fine or even imprisonment in some jurisdictions.
The NCOs said the city’s Homeless Services is responsible for helping the homeless and responding to neighborhood complaints.
But if a crime is being committed, including trespassing on private property or blocking passage on a public property like a sidewalk, we should call 911. The attending officers will offer the homeless person shelter or a hospital admission. Of course, we all know that many homeless people don’t want to go to the shelters now due to fears about COVID.
People in the audience were very concerned about the increasing numbers of incidents involving homeless people in our community. Two other attendees reported problems they experienced with homeless people lying across a stoop or entryway and preventing passage. Another neighbor raised concerns about a homeless encampment at a nearby park. Another attendee commented that homeless people are taking over the AIDS Memorial Park and sleeping on the benches, making the park inaccessible to other members of the public. The police said anyone is allowed to be in the park, and occupy the benches, until 11 pm when the park closes.
PO Carey said there have been Black Lives Matter protests daily and the police are deployed to escort the bike protestors and guard the protest events, so the balance of officers remaining for other duties is thin. The bike protestors register with them ahead of time for police escort.
Now that these issues have been raised, the NCOs said they will tour the park more often.
The NCOs said if you feel scared or threatened, definitely call 911. I felt that their care for the neighborhood was genuine, in contrast to the NYPD’s media contact. When I asked Richard J. Esposito, Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, for an interview about what the NYPD’s new role is in regards to homeless people, he sent a terse email reply: “Please direct your questions to City Hall.”
These homeless people are our neighbors and members of our community. I am sure many readers feel the same empathy I do for their desperate situation. How can we help them and keep our neighborhood safe for everyone?
Karen Rempel has been contributing to WestView News since 2017. She is a photojournalist, technical writer, model, and artist. Her words and pictures have appeared in the literary journal Room, TV Week Magazine, Vancouver Sun, and many other pubs. Her artwork has exhibited at New York’s Salmagundi Club and Revelation Gallery. Visit her blog at loveaffair.nyc and her YouTube channel.