Are ‘Noise Cops’ Coming? One of the chief arguments posed by opponents of the smoking ban was that in solving one problem, the city would simply be creating another: noisy smokers out on the streets. The ban has been in effect since late March, and already a remedy is being sought for combating increased street noise.
While the proposal has been circulating for a number of years to expand New York City’s Paid Detail Unit, allowing bar and nightclub owners the option of hiring off-duty police officers to guard the entrances of their establishments, the smoking ban has brought a new urgency to the issue. Founded in 1998, the P.D.U. is a division of the NYPD that enables off-duty cops to moonlight, with their salaries being paid by the private companies they patrol. Currently, the P.D.U. is restricted to such venues as sporting events and department stores; restaurants and nightclubs are ineligible because of archaic Prohibition-era laws.
On Sept. 11, David Rabin, a Community Board 5 member who is also the president of the New York Nightlife Association and co-owner of Lotus and Union Bar, brought the issue of P.D.U. expansion before Board 5. Mr. Rabin told the gathering that the program has been successful in Boston, Miami, Atlanta and Houston, so it “should be given a shot” in New York.
Mr. Rabin told The Observer that initial attempts to secure the services of the P.D.U. were made by Andrew Rasiej, founder of New York Nightlife Association. Since then, Mr. Rabin said, he has “been planting the seed during board meetings for about a year.” Mr. Rabin noted the high concentration of liquor licenses in Board 5’s district and mentioned that he intends to approach several of Manhattan’s community boards before the measure is brought up for debate later in the fall before City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
Mr. Rabin’s Sept. 11 presentation elicited a variety of reactions. “I strongly support this,” said board member Rosalie Shields. “The streets have been plagued with noise for years and years and years. Besides,” she added, “the clubs are [just] trying to be good neighbors.”
Board member Suzanne Esper would also like to see a thin blue line outside the bars and clubs. “I’m a resident, and I would look forward to Paid Detail. There is no doubt in my mind that they could quell the noise issues.”
Vikki Barbero, head of the board’s public-safety and quality-of-life committee said, “When people come to us sleep-deprived … it’s [almost certainly] because of what is happening outside a club. How can this [measure] hurt?”
Board member William Daly emphasized the advantage that off-duty cops have over bouncers: “If a police officer is out there, he can make arrests; he can issue parking tickets.”
But board member James Collins wasn’t convinced, suggesting that cops drinking and “alcoholism” might be a problem. Referring to the Aug. 4 , 2001, incident in which an inebriated New York City police officer, Joseph Gray, struck and killed a family, Mr. Collins said he didn’t want another incident with a policeman “mowing down four people …. ”
Board member David Siesko was also skeptical about the program. “Where does the liability come from?” he asked. “Theoretically, if someone was shot, who’s responsible?”
“That is a serious concern,” said Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, when contacted by The Observer . “Right now, the city would be liable if injuries were to occur. It would be on a case-by-case basis, but the city would be liable, and right now we don’t have the money to expose ourselves to any extra liability. So we’re trying to work out a way to make the city not be liable.”
Councilman David Yassky, a proponent of the measure, dismissed the specter of officer malfeasance. “[The officers] would be in violation, and they would be disciplined,” he told The Observer . “I don’t think it makes sense to have a policy that assumes the worst about police officers. We should assume the best.”
In the end, the board resoundingly approved the measure-“in principal”-to request expansion of the P.D.U. If the issue passes Councilman Vallone’s Committee on Public Safety, it will proceed to the full City Council and then to the Mayor’s desk.
-Elon Rafael Green
Sept. 17: Board 8, Lenox Hill Hospital, 131 East 76th Street, Einhorn Auditorium, 7 p.m., 212-758-4340.
Sept. 18: Board 9, 565 West 125th Street, ground floor, 6:30 p.m., 212-864-6200; Board 2, 143 Baxter Street, P.S. 130, 6:30 p.m., 212-979-2272.
Sept. 23: Board 12, 650 West 168th Street, Alumni Auditorium, 7 p.m., 212-568-8500.