Advocates Call For Park Crime Reports
By ROSS BARKAN
| A bloody bench in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the result of a recent stabbing incident, according to NYC Park Advocates.
Photo provided by Geoffrey Croft
Advocates for park safety claim that a lack of technology within the NYPD is a cause for concern and is leading to park crimes being under-reported.
Though the NYPD compiles crime reports for 31 parks, including six in Queens, a 2005 law passed by the City Council requires the City to report crime in all parks and playgrounds larger than one acre. Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is knocking the Bloomberg Administration and the NYPD for not following through on this law.
“For a city that wrote the book on data-driven crime fighting, the dearth of statistics on crime in our parks is astounding,” said de Blasio, who wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “We need to fix these blind spots immediately, before another New Yorker is victimized in one of our public spaces.”
Alley Pond Park, Cunningham Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Kissena Park, Forest Park and Rockaway Community Park are the only Queens parks with specific crime reports.
While the NYPD does not differentiate most park-specific crimes, NYC Park Advocates, a parks watchdog group, has compiled an unofficial tally of crimes in parks. The group reported that crime in City parks was up 24 percent from the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2011. The report also noted that at least 41 people were involved in violent crimes this summer.
“The City has had no interest in complying with the law,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates. “By 2008, they were supposed to comply with the law. The excuse they gave is that they don’t have the technology. At the very least, it’s a matter of literally adding a line on their reports.”
When the 2005 law was passed, the NYPD set its own timetable for implementation based on when the law would be “technologically feasible.” The Public Advocate office’s chief complaint is that crime occurring in most parks is lumped into general precinct crime and is not specifically identified on any type of crime map, like other non-park crimes are. This identification allows the NYPD to place more officers in certain zones.
With advances in GPS technology, NYPD critics argue that not having the proper technology to implement the law is no longer an excuse. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) wrote the 2005 law and introduced a new bill recently that would take away the technological hardship reason the NYPD has provided to avoid tracking crime in all parks greater than an acre. With many council members term limited, Vallone, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, is not optimistic the bill will be a priority in the City Council.
“The way the police track crime in parks now is right out of a 1950s television show,” Vallone said. “They have a guy going through police reports and reading to determine whether crime occurred in a park. It is very hard to believe a police force with technology like the NYPD possesses cannot figure out a way to keep statistics accurately in a park.”
The 31 parks only account for about two percent of the city’s 1,700 outdoor recreational facilities. Incidents in parks are also not listed in a separate category in crime reports and park advocates believe the uptick in crime may be the result of a decrease of Parks Enforcement Patrol officers. PEP officers, part of the Parks Dept., carry pepper spray and batons but not handguns—in the mid 1990s, there were approximately 450 PEP officers on patrol across the City and now there are only 100.
The NYPD and the Parks Dept. did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.