Letter to Honorable Mark Levine
February 9, 2015
The Honorable Mark Levine
New York City Council
As the City Council crafts a new budget, I want to stress the importance of hiring more Park Enforcement Patrol officers. We all know the value of our parks -- for citizens, visitors, and the environment. Over the last 34 years, PEP has played an essential part in providing New Yorkers with safe and orderly parks, ensuring the wellbeing of patrons and protecting public property. While the need for more PEP officers is long-standing, the following letter will emphasize an even greater urgency.
A dire picture is emerging as the city finally begins to count crimes in more parks. Recent numbers are troubling: 432 major crimes were reported in the third quarter of 2014. That’s four times the number of crimes ever reported in parks for any quarter. Five people were raped, 101 were robbed, and 72 were assaulted in city parks between July 1 and September 30. The higher numbers come from the 1,153 park properties now tracked under a 2014 law, up from just 31 parks previously. The full report, which excludes the Central Park precinct, can be obtained here:
The City Council needs to step into the breach and increase the number of PEP officers to more realistic levels. In an ideal world, 2,000 PEP officers should patrol our 29,000 acres of parkland -- that wouldn’t translate into the more than one-officer-per-acre enjoyed at Battery Park, which pays $2.5 million a year for 43 dedicated PEP officers, but it means one officer for every 14.5 acres. The quality of coverage could be improved with 1,000 PEP officers; 500 might take care of the bare essentials.
Yet this last number hasn’t been seen in two decades. The current force hovers around 200 officers, but half of them are now dedicated to “contract parks,” operated by private nonprofits in well-heeled neighborhoods. The total number of officers is up from 149 in 2011, but it’s still less than half the size of PEP in the 1990s. Due to the depletion of personnel, PEP no longer has late evening or overnight patrols, when crime is more likely to occur. The challenges grow in the summer, as officers must cover pools and beaches. With so many PEP officers deployed to conservancies, few are left to patrol the rest of the parks system, an inequitable arrangement that penalizes low- and middle-income communities. It’s not uncommon to see as little as two officers patrolling an entire borough’s parks. The shortfall is felt most acutely in the outer boroughs, where skeletal crews are forced to cover 6,700 acres of parkland in Queens, 6,970 acres in the Bronx, 4,336 acres in Brooklyn, and 7,400 acres in Staten Island.