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Parks' Safety Resources Aren't Distributed Equally, Council Members Say

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Parks in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs are getting shortchanged when it comes to safety, some city lawmakers claim.

The City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee held a hearing Wednesday on why Central and Lower Manhattan get a disproportionately high number of patrol officers based on park acreage.

During one exchange, committee chair Melissa Mark-Viverito pointed out that relatively small areas like Battery Park City and the Hudson River Park have more than 20 officers apiece from the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP).

"What is it, eight officers assigned to the whole borough of the Bronx?" said Mark-Viverito, who noted the parks she represents in Harlem and the Bronx — which has about 7,000 acres of parkland — have just a fraction of those in Manhattan.

Mark-Viverito and other council members from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens expressed concern about budget cuts to the PEP program and said crime rates are rising in their parks.

The Parks Department's First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said Manhattan gets more PEP officers because its parks get more visitors than those in other parts of the city. Manhattan parks have also entered into partnerships with universities and private organizations that pay for the deployment of additional officers, he said.

"Manhattan has the highest population density of any borough, and the lowest per capita parkland, and that creates much more regular use of the parks than we see in other boroughs," Kavanagh said.

But Mark-Viverito said those public-private partnerships make the disparity even worse: "Whoever has the ability to pay, well then, they're going to get the additional service. ... I think every community, every park, needs to be treated equitably."

The PEP program was founded in 1981. The peace officers enforce quality-of-life laws and other park codes and provide crowd control and security during events. They are unarmed but can issue summonses and make arrests.

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