NY4P Urges More Comprehensive Tracking of Crime in Parks

Friday, February 10, 2012
Try as some might, it’s nearly impossible to draw conclusions from the NYPD’s park crime statistics.

That’s because the Department only tracks statistics for the city’s 30 largest parks. There are 2,152 in the system. And that’s despite a Local Law 114, enacted in 2005, which mandated that the Department begin, and gradually increase, the tracking of crime data in parks. New Yorkers for Parks has closely followed the issue of safety in parks for decades and played a central role in advocating for the Local Law 114.

The Department should clearly be following that law, and that was the basis of our testimony at a New York City Council hearing last week, held jointly by the committees on Public Safety and Parks & Recreation.

Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that until five years ago, crimes in parks weren't reported as occurring in a park; instead, the NYPD tracked them to the nearest street address. Responding to a strong advocacy campaign by NY4P and other groups, the City Council, with strong leadership from Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., and Mayor Bloomberg, passed Local Law 114, mandating that the seven major felony crime complaints be tracked in City parks. This legislation marked a first step toward increasing transparency, accountability and public awareness about crimes in parks.

The legislation allowed for a phased implementation, beginning with the city's 20 largest parks. In 2008, the tracking requirement was expanded to 30 parks, and the law called for it to expand to the 100 largest parks one year later, the 200 largest parks two years later, and all parks measuring one acre or greater three years later. The reality has fallen short in two important respects.

Most significantly, no expansion of reporting has taken place since 2008, and the NYPD is still tracking crime in only 30 City parks. But NYPD Governmental Affairs officer Susan Petito testified that the Department lacks the technological capacity to handle such a task.

With such a limited sampling, it’s difficult to accurately analyze crime trends and patterns in parks or draw meaningful conclusions about resource deployment or other safety initiatives.    

Another issue: the City doesn’t make the data publicly available. New Yorkers for Parks’ website – currently under construction – is one of the only places providing the public with the crime data collected on the 30 parks.

Reporting crimes in all large parks is in everyone’s best interest: it will help New Yorkers better understand the reality – or perhaps fallacy – of perceived safety concerns about parks, both generally and specifically, and could lead to a more informed and efficient distribution of police resources.

At the hearing, NY4P and other park advocates urged the Council to work with the NYPD to identify the technological issues hindering the full implementation of this mandate, to develop and release a plan and timeline for overcoming these constraints, and to work closely with the NYPD to ensure that the full program is implemented within that revised timeframe.

Another issue that arose was the lack of Parks Department Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers stationed throughout the park system. While these officers are empowered to issue summonses for quality of life offenses and generally keep the peace, the force is woefully understaffed; there were just 150 PEP officers throughout the five boroughs in 2011 – more than half of which were stationed in Manhattan. Budget cuts at the Department have made it difficult to maintain anywhere near an adequate number of officers.

But William Bayer, a retired 30-year veteran of the NYPD, suggested that the PEP force be run by the NYPD, and not Parks. The NYPD, he said, is far more capable not only of training and overseeing such a force, but also of paying for it. It’s certainly a recommendation worthy of exploration by the Council.

The bulk of the hearing, though, focused on better tracking of crime numbers in parks. And our conclusion on the state of such crimes, was, unfortunately, the same as the Council’s: inconclusive.

NY4P Joins Participatory Budgeting Process

Friday, January 13, 2012
Four New York City Council Members are giving New Yorkers more of a say in the City's legislative priorities.
Beginning last fall, Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams signed on to the Participatory Budgeting process, a growing national movement in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Each member allocated $1 million of capital discretionary funds to the project, and oversaw the formation of delegate committees for issues such as housing, education, open space and transportation. The community meetings began last fall.
New Yorkers for Parks serves on the project’s steering committee and recently attended the Parks & Recreation delegate meeting for District 8. The meeting, also attended by Parks Department officials, was reflective of how the Participatory Budgeting process is meant to work—through feedback and collaboration with government officials.
The group identified specific improvements needed in three local parks, and Parks Department representatives offered helpful suggestions for each site. In Poor Richard’s Playground, Parks said it would soon invest $200,000 to fix the worn safety surfacing, so Participatory Budgeting funds were not needed. Because the available funds would only cover a portion of the cost of new play equipment in Blake Hobbes Playground, Parks suggested that the community seek supplemental funds from a local nonprofit to help meet the shortfall. As for the outdated dog run in Thomas Jefferson Park, Parks urged the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Park Dog Association to build a constituency to advocate for Parks Department capital funds for a new dog run.
Similar meetings have taken place over the past several months IN the other three participating districts. When this spring’s budget discussion arrives, New Yorkers will have had a more direct say in how public money is spent than ever before.

NY4P Report Spurs Community Action in Central Harlem

Friday, December 16, 2011
When members of the Harlem-based Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association (MMPCIA) opened NY4P’s Report Card on Large Parks in early November, they quickly noticed that their neighborhood park, Marcus Garvey, had scored lower than any other in Manhattan.

“We were shocked to see it score a D,” said Laurent Delly, Vice President of the MMPCIA. “The Report Card really was a wake-up call and has helped us be a lot more proactive in addressing issues in the park.”

While the 30-year-old community organization had focused mostly on housing and economic development issues, its attention quickly turned to the park that is, as Delly said, at the heart of the community. The 20-acre space opened in 1840 as Mount Morris Park and was renamed in 1973. It hosts the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, among other events.

After reading the Report Card, MMPCIA quickly got in touch with the Marcus Garvey Alliance and organized a series of leaf and trash cleanups in November. They met with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro. And they have solidified a group of neighborhood volunteers who are devoted to improving the park.

Since the Report Card’s research was finished, several of the benches have been fixed and the amphitheater has been renovated, but there’s still much work to be done. Weed growth and worn playground equipment – along with new lamppost installation and refurbishment of the park’s iconic Harlem Fire Watchtower – are all issues MMPCIA is determined to address – both through building the fledgling volunteer network and working with the Parks Department and elected officials.

“”We want to get an A next time, so we’re fighting vigorously for it,” Delly said.