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Things That Go Bump

It was 3 in the morning and someone was ringing my downstairs buzzer. I got up and looked out the window, but I couldn’t see anything. I heard the buzzer ringing in other apartments, but I did nothing. I admit it – the situation was a little scary.

What should I have done? I could have gone downstairs to the lobby to see who was buzzing. But I had seen too many thrillers where a character goes down alone to check out a noise and then is never heard from again. What if I went downstairs and saw someone standing by the door? What if, as I approached him to tell him to leave, someone buzzed him in and he rushed me?
It could happen.

I remembered an incident that occurred when I lived in a brownstone off Riverside Drive. I had just come up the front steps on my way home from work. I was standing in the vestibule, looking at my mail when a young man came up the steps holding a piece of paper with a name apparently written on it.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you know if this person lives here?” He showed me the paper, and as I turned my back on him to see if the name appeared on any of the mailboxes, I felt his arm encircle my throat, and he said, “Give me your wallet!”

I don’t know what I was thinking – I wasn’t thinking at all – because I suddenly pushed backwards and slammed him into the wall. My action was so sudden and startling that he let go of me. I turned and began pummeling him with my fists, and as he shielded his face, I forced him out the door.  Yes, I had been a foolhardy hero back then. But that had been years ago, and I was no longer the trim fighting machine of the past.

So, unlike TV’s action hero Jack Bauer from 24, I did nothing about the incessant ringing of the buzzer. I am the board president of this 21-unit Manhattan co-op, and I probably should have done something. But when the buzzer rang again. I stood there listening. Was that a noise on the stairs? Should I call a neighbor and investigate?

A few weeks before, my next-door neighbor had banged on my door at about 3 A.M. (I guess that’s the witching hour). I opened up, and she asked me if I was moving furniture around. I assured her that I hadn’t been, and she seemed fairly sheepish about the whole incident. So now, did I want to bother my neighbors over a buzzer in the night and look just as foolish? I went back to bed.

The next day I received a call from the treasurer. He had been disturbed by our nocturnal visitor as well and had also done very little (he wasn’t Jack Bauer, either). But he had gone one step beyond what I had done. He called the local police precinct to request that a patrol car drive by the building to check out the entrance.

“It turns out,” he said to me, “that someone in our building must have buzzed this person in. Some packages in the hallway were vandalized, presumably by the intruder, who possibly ascended the staircase above the ground floor before leaving. Allowing this stranger to enter put the entire building at risk.”

So, what’s to be done? Do we create tag teams to patrol the hallways at night? Do we build a great wall around our building? Or do we engage the 24-hour check-cashing store that occupies one of our ground-floor commercial spaces to keep an eye out for us? (I’ve always felt it is odd to have a brightly lit 24-hour store ready to cash a check for you at 3 A.M.)

I called our local precinct and talked to a detective. “There have been a number of package thefts in other buildings, usually when packages are left exposed overnight in the hallway, where people from the street can see the packages,” he explained to me. (I immediately thought of certain shareholders on the sixth floor, who often leave packages out for days.) “You should see to it that a package not picked up by 10 P.M. is moved.”

These were wise words. The detective then told me that, at our request, the Community Affairs Division of the NYPD could send someone to lecture all our residents about safety measures and advise us on security measures and weaknesses in our security.

Did that include wary board members hiding in their apartments? I wondered. But maybe I was being too hard on us. After all, board membership is supposed to be a thankless job, not a heroic one.

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