March 22, 2016 By Jackie Strawbridge
Queens will receive a small fraction of the additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers that are being hired citywide to clamp down on crime in parks, pushing some local lawmakers to claim that the borough is being shortchanged.
Of the 67 new full-time Parks Enforcement Patrol officers slated to be deployed in New York City this fall, Queens will receive eight. All eight will be stationed at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, according to the Parks Department.
The Bronx will also receive eight new officers, while Staten Island will get 10, Manhattan will get 12 and Brooklyn will get 20. Nine more officers will go to a citywide task force.
PEP officers work alongside the NYPD to prevent crime in parks, with the ability to write summonses and make arrests. The new officers come from $5.3 million that the Parks Department received in the City’s Fiscal Year 2017 Preliminary Budget and will be active in September.
Council Member Costa Constantinides said he felt “severe disappointment and aggravation” based on the distribution of the new PEP officers.
“When we fought so hard to have these additional PEP officers put in the budget, I strongly believed that there would be at the very least an equal distribution,” he said. “By no way is this meeting that.”
Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, wrote an op-ed charging that with only eight new officers, Queens has been “forgotten yet again.”
He added that the situation is especially dire due to ongoing crime problems in FMCP. According to NYPD statistics, that park saw disproportionately high major crime rates in 2015.
At a March 3 budget hearing, Assistant Commissioner for Urban Park Services Michael Dockett said that the new FMCP officers will be deployed specifically to address the car drifting, noise pollution and illegal vendors that plague the park.
Lancman is setting up a meeting with Parks to discuss the issue, spokesperson Nadia Chait said this week.
“Certainly we’re glad to see additional officers going to Flushing Meadows – it’s not clear to us yet that that’s going to be enough,” Chait said.
A Parks Department spokesperson also noted that with the new PEP hires, the total distribution of PEP officers throughout the boroughs will be relatively even, with 56 funded in Queens compared to 54 in the Bronx, 58 in Manhattan, 68 in Brooklyn and 38 in Staten Island.
Within Queens, PEP officers are fixed in Rockaway Beach and Forest Park as well as FMCP. The rest float throughout the borough.
For the Astoria community in particular, the continued lack of dedicated resources is a source of frustration, in Constantinides’ words.
“This district in particular has the jewel of western Queens: Astoria Park. We need PEP officers patrolling Astoria Park on a more regular basis, we need PEP officers patrolling our playgrounds,” he said.
Richard Khuzami, chair of Community Board 1’s Parks Committee, estimated that CB 1 has been requesting new PEP officers in the district for a decade.
“The rules and regulations of the parks are ineffective if there’s no enforcement,” Khuzami said. “Things like bike riding in the paths, littering, barbequing and other quality of life issues that occur in the parks will not be alleviated until the proper enforcement is given.”
In the meantime, Constantinides said he is looking for opportunities to improve quality of life in Astoria’s parks through other means.
Spurred in part by ongoing problems at Sean’s Place (38th Street between 31st Avenue and Broadway), where families have been finding garbage and drug paraphernalia, the Councilman said he is drafting legislation that would require the City to lock all gated parks and playgrounds overnight.
When asked for comment on this issue, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said in a statement, “The safety of park users, particularly our little ones, is our utmost concern.”
“Parks are at their best when they are supported by their communities through a regular set of users, and frequent engaging public programs—discouraging unsavory activities,” she continued. “We are committed to exploring additional security measures in this park, and will be working with the community on a plan to do so.”