NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- If ever there was a case to be made that the City of New Rochelle needs to create a Crisis Management and Communications Team, the shooting at D'Onofrio Field Park would be Exhibit B.
Exhibit A, of course, would be the almost complete absence of communications by City and School officials during and in the days following Hurricane Sandy. Sandy hit New Rochelle on October 26, 2012. Except for a few brief emails and phone calls, New Rochelle's government agencies never came together to provide the public with a comprehensive report, with Q&A, until a full week after the storm hit. At the repeated urging of Talk of the Sound, City Manager Chuck Strome held a press conference on November 2, 2014.
This needs to change.
The City (and School District) need to have a Crisis Management and Communications for any "Level 1" emergencies -- a city wide power outage, large scale flooding, or major crime incidents like a shooting in a public park with hundreds of people on hand.
Talk of the Sound is calling on City officials to place this item on the agenda for discussion at next month's City Council meeting (the school board, under current leadership, is a lost cause on this right now so our focus is on the City government).
What we would like to see is a plan that entails gathering all of the relevant department heads and staff together, working quickly to determine the facts, and then pushing out communications based on those facts through all available media channels including the City's own services (reverse-911, NRTV, email, web site) as well as every possible social media service while releasing that information to the media for them to distribute as rapidly as possible. Of course, care should be taken not to place the public at risk or jeopardize an ongoing investigation.
What should have happened Sunday night is that the City Manager should have activated the "bat signal" for the Parks Commissioner, the Police Commissioner (or more practically, the Deputy Commissioner), communications staff, the Mayor, City Council Members whose district's were impacted (District 2 where the shooting took place, District 1 where the people in the park ran to get away from the crime scene) and any other people as deemed appropriate by the City Manager. They should have gathered all available facts and information and distributed that information that night.
What did happen that night is...nothing.
There was a City official on scene but he ignored requests for information from media on scene that night (Talk of the Sound, News 12) and no statement was issued. Youth Bureau Director Kelly Johnson, the second highest ranking official in the Parks & Recreation Department, was present when the shot was fired.
What information has been released has come in dribs and drabs and, in at least one key element -- the time of the shooting -- does not appear to be consistent. Some media outlets have reported 6:30 p.m. while others have reported 5 p.m.. both times attributed to the New Rochelle Police Department.
The first call of dispatch to a responding officer was made at 6:24 p.m., based on scanner traffic monitored by Talk of the Sound. An ambulance was recorded on cellphone video leaving the scene at 6:48 p.m.
One important piece of information -- who was in the park and why -- was not made available to Talk of the Sound until the end of the day yesterday.
The records provided by City Manager Charles B. Strome show the park was rented from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. by the "West End Organization".
The person who requested the permit and submitted the required insurance coverage is Earl Bradshaw, who is employed by the City of New Rochelle Department of Public Works and has long been involved in New Rochelle Youth Tackle Football.
A special event liability insurance policy for $1,000,000 was issued for the event by Markel American Insurance Company on July 30, 2014. The Certificate Holder is the City of New Rochelle.
D'Onofrio Picnic Pavilion is located at the end of Emmett Terrace, near Weyman Avenue, in New Rochelle, NY. It is one of several Rental Facilities offered by the New Rochelle Parks & Recreation Department. It is described as a large covered outdoor picnic pavilion with a private area accommodating single parties of 200 or less. There are 30 8-foot tables with benches and 5 stationary grills for outdoor cooking. There is a children's playground and restrooms. Ball fields may also be rented (when available) for two hours of play at a cost of $80.00. No parking fee is required.
The City web site states that members of the public can rent the D'Onofrio Picnic Pavilion for a full day (10:00am to 6:00pm) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Holidays or for party of day on weekdays, Monday-Thursday excluding holidays (10:00am -2:00pm or 2:00pm to 6:00pm). A full day rental costs $600.00. A part day rental costs $300.00. Renters must supply homeowners liability insurance and pay a $100.00 non-refundable deposit.
To rent a park in New Rochelle an applicant must complete a Picnic Rental Application form and submit the completed form along with the required documents and payment to the Parks and Recreation Office.
The application form requires the name and address of a contact person for the group or organization.
The applicant must indicate the number of people, the purpose, the date, beginning and ending time, whether beer or wine will be served, whether an inflatable item (i.e., a bouncy castle) will be in use, whether there will be a DJ or amplified sound (live music is not permitted). The agreement includes a "hold harmless" indemnification of the City of New Rochelle and its "agents, officials, employees and volunteers".
I further agree, covenant and promise not to sue, assert of otherwise maintain or assert any claim against the City of New Rochelle, its agents, officials, employees and volunteers for any injury, death, illness, disease or damage to myself or to my property or to property, including City property which is under my control, arising from or connected with my use and/or rental of city equipment facilities or from any claim asserted against me by any other person.
The form submitted on behalf of the West End Organization by Earl Bradshaw states the fee paid for a full-day rental was $530 not $600.
There is no signature on the signature line. Typed into the space on the form are the words "as per written request" no document with a written request was provided by the City Manager.
The permit request was approved by William V. Zimmerman, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.
A flyer promoting the event states "West End Organization in association with Councilman Louis Trangucci Presents The West End Organization Reunion, Sunday August 10, 2014, 10am - 6 pm."
This is the extent of the information provided by the City of New Rochelle to Talk of the Sound in response to this incident.
Talk of the Sound previously reported that the event was sponsored by a local church and that there was a memorial service for a particular person. That information was based on information gathered from persons at the scene, a sign displayed at the corner of Weyman Avenue and Emmett Terrace and web-based research. That information was incorrect and removed from the original report of the shooting published immediately after the incident.
Talk of the Sound has since confirmed with Council Member Trangucci and based on material provided by City Manager Strome on Tuesday afternoon that the event was the The West End Organization Reunion. It should not to take 2 days to confirm this information.
There are unconfirmed reports that the incident that took place Sunday evening and the event itself were both related to an incident which took place on May 6, 2014 on Union Avenue and Seventh Street.
In May, Will David of the The Journal News reported that a "a man in a silver sport utility vehicle chased and fired shots at a 25-year-old New Rochelle man...striking him once in the arm".
At the time police told David "the shooting victim was not cooperating with investigators" and that police were "familiar with the shooting victim, who has had contact with law enforcement in the past."
A community meeting was organized and held at the Columbus School on Washington Avenue in New Rochelle. There were complaints about an increase in criminal activity in the area and racial tensions. An outgrowth of that meeting was to hold a community event to bring people of the West End together. That event was The West End Organization Reunion.
Audio of police scanner radio traffic obtained by Talk of the Sound indicates that New Rochelle police received reports almost immediately that the shooter was Anthony Morgan, a Mount Vernon resident with ties to New Rochelle. Morgan has a history of drug related arrests.
Sources tell talk of the Sound that Morgan is also believed to have been the shooter in the May 6th shooting incident on Union Avenue.
Unofficially, Talk of the Sound has confirmed that the victim on the August 10 shooting incident at D'Onofrio Field Park is likewise not cooperating with police.
We are unable to confirm anything with the New Rochelle Police Department because Talk of the Sound has not had a functional relationship with the senior command of the New Rochelle Police Department for 18 months.
The public information officer for the City of New Rochelle Police Department is Captain Joseph Schaller who has, since February 2013, refused Talk of the Sound entry to police press conference and has otherwise not responded to press inquiries from Talk of the Sound since our reporting on a pension-padding scheme concocted by New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll was defeated during a City Council vote on February 19, 2013.
Carroll's response to complaints about Schaller's unwillingness to respond to media inquiries from Talk of the Sound was to defend Schaller saying "What do you expect after what you wrote about him".
As a result, Talk of the Sound is unable to get an official response on whether Morgan is a person of interest the shooting incidents on May 6, 2014 or August 10, 2014.
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