“When the arena opens there are going to be changes to people’s quality of life,” Capt. Michael Ameri, standing next to City Councilmember Letitia James, told a roomfull of people at Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct, where he is the commanding officer. The public meeting on how the new Barclays Center and surrounding area would be policed drew approximately 60 area residents on Wednesday.
After nine years of delays and political conflict between supporters and opponents of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development, its centerpiece arena, home to the Brooklyn Nets and host to concerts and events, will open on September 28. Unlike Madison Square Garden, Barclays is surrounded by the residential neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene. Fears over increased traffic, public drunkenness and parking have long been among residents’ concerns, in addition to the displacement of some 800 people through eminent domain before the arena was built.
Because the arena’s footprint sits within three police precincts — the 77th, 78th and 88th — the city went for efficiency and unofficially selected the 78th Precinct to cover Barclays Center, as well as the Atlantic Mall and Atlantic Terminal, last March. On August 13, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent a letter to City Council requesting approval for the redrawn boundary 78th Precinct, which will also expand to cover a triangle wedge of residential streets between Flatbush, Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues. The Council has 60 days to respond to the request, but permission has been tacit as the stadium will open on September 28 with a Jay-Z concert and the 78th has already been preparing for its expanded beat, which will include a special “arena detail” and considerable overtime for many of its officers.
That overtime, said James (D-35), is going to be covered by the taxpayers of the City of New York.
“I believe Forest City Ratner should cover the overtime costs, but at this point, it’s the taxpayers. Which is why I opposed it [Atlantic Yards] from day one,” James added.
Echoes of that frustration, after years of legal battles, pervaded the room, but the point of the meeting was clear: to work out how the police are going to deal with a huge influx of people (the arena has 18,000 seats).
The Coming Hordes
Increased traffic, pedestrian flow and the related problem of stadium visitors gobbling up the limited parking on side streets — or loitering on sidewalks and stoops– were among the largest concerns.
“When it comes to parking, when it comes to residential traffic, it’s going to be a problem,” Ameri admitted. He said that Forest City Ratner has agreed to manage the flow of pedestrians with 18 specialized crowd control employees. He also said the NYPD is working with cab and limo companies to pick up arena attendees at industrial areas around Barclays, and that the Parking Bureau had allotted the NYPD 24 parking spaces to reduce the existing problem of the police themselves double parking on the street.
“One of our plans is to flood the area with transit agents and tow trucks. We want to make it clear that public transit is the way to go,’ Ameri added.
James said she asked the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) for parking permits for residents, but after the DOT conducted a study based on what it did for Yankee Stadium, the agency concluded there would be enough parking. An outburst of laughter indicated the crowd disagreed, as did James.
“We [James and Councilmember Steve Levin] said ‘you engaged in speculation because the arena isn’t open yet.’ The DOT said they’ll reconsider when the arena opens,” said James, who who hopes that will result in another report by January.
Ameri said that there were no plans to alter the flow of traffic during events at the arena, but stressed that Barclays has done a good job encouraging arena visitors to use public transportation plans. He also noted that plans were subject to change once the arena opens.
Policing a New Beat
Ameri, who came to the 78th Precinct last January from Queens, where he policed Citi Field and the U.S. Open, said the 78th is prepared.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve had GoogaMooga, over 25 concerts,” said Ameri, referring to the many large events in Prospect Park, for which his precinct is also solely responsible. He added, “Rest assured, 15 to 18,000 people is not an overwhelming number of people for us to deal with.”
But many in the crowd still had questions. A resident from the St. Felix Street Block Association asked Ameri what he planned to do about people wandering the Brownstone-lined streets and hanging out on neighbors’ stoops.
Ameri acknowledged that it might be a problem, but that standing on the sidewalks is not illegal.
“It’s not my business moving people off the block,” said Ameri. “If people want to walk around the neighborhood, that’s their prerogative. “I’m not in the business of shooing people away.”
Another concern was the increase of street vendors, particularly those hawking illegal merchandise late at night, making themselves vulnerable with their cash business.
“Ticket scalping is one of the things we’ll be policing. The officers that are assigned to the arena are going to be trained in vending law,” said Ameri, who also mentioned counterfeit tickets could also be an issue.
Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue might be brimming with bars, but a number of the attendees in the meeting voiced concerns over intoxicated people spilling out of the stadium, seeking not a place to relieve themselves , but their cars.
Ameri attempted to assuage the concerns of drunkness by citing the NBA policy not to sell alcohol after the fourth quarter begins on game nights, and that during concerts, alcohol sales would shut down an hour before closing. However, the arena’s three VIP clubs will be open until 4 a.m. after events.
“The people who are going to be going to these clubs are a very small number of people, they’re going to be very wealthy people,” said Ameri, who immediately winced after recognizing the gaffe, but not before a small chorus of heckles was directed his way.
In terms of the number of officers in the precinct, Ameri said that his precinct was currently overstaffed, but “I’m getting more cops after Labor Day. I don’t know the number.”
James also chimed in with what came across as both reassurance and a friendly warning to residents who double park even without an arena: “Things are going to change. The 78th is going to step up enforcement.”