June 22, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
With the Parks Department having less than 30 employees in Queens to enforce crime and park rules, residents are grappling with the Sisyphean task of keeping the borough’s green space safe and clean.
According to the Parks Department, just 28 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers are assigned to patrol Queens parks.
These officers are stationed out of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Rockaway and Forest Park. They conduct patrols in pairs throughout the borough, and are responsible for crowd control, administering first aid, and, crucially, issuing summonses or making arrests.
Last week, Community Board 1 passed a resolution calling for PEP officers to be on site at all times in Astoria parks, or if that is impossible, calling for Park Supervisors to be given the power to issue summonses, which they currently cannot.
The board seeks more officers to address violations that consistently plague area parks, such as leaving dog waste, bike riding on pedestrian paths and dumping household garbage into park cans.
“The only viable way to control these issues is the issuance of summonses, so park patrons actually pay a price for illegal behavior,” CB 1 Parks Committee Chairman Richard Khuzami said.
The Parks Department did not address CB 1’s specific requests when asked for comment, but instead defined park safety and cleanliness as a community effort.
“It is incumbent upon all park visitors to treat our City’s green spaces with respect, and educate one another on proper park behavior, particularly when it comes to littering,” Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said in an emailed statement. “We actively work with the Community Board and local civic groups to spread this message, and we’re grateful for their help.”
According to Detective Edwin Negron of the 114 Precinct, the NYPD handles the majority of crimes in and around parks, after calls come through 911 or 311.
“[Parks’] resources are extremely limited,” Detective Edwin Negron of the 114 Precinct said. “We help them out any way we can.”
Police are occasionally stationed within parks; for example, the 114 keeps a small handful of officers at the Astoria Park pool during the summer.
CB 1 is not the only entity pushing for a stronger enforcement presence in Queens parks.
“Astoria Park Alliance has been an early advocate for an increase in presence of PEP officers city wide,” APA co-chair Jordan Dyniewski said. “Outside of increased PEP and NYPD presence, we have yet to discover a sustainable solution that takes into account the various agencies and stakeholders.”
“Otherwise, we, as parks users, must continue educating the public and leading by example, which we [in APA] seek to do through volunteer opportunities and other free programming offered in the park,” he continued.
Dyniewski added that the Alliance supports the part of the CB 1 resolution that calls for increased enforcement, and will be discussing the resolution as a group at their upcoming meeting.
The City Council also pushed Mayor Bill de Blasio to include more funding for PEP officers in response to his FY 2016 Budget.
“I am pleased that we have the support of CB 1 on this issue,” Councilman Costa Constantinides told the Astoria Post. “I look forward to continuing to work with my City Council colleagues to ensure that we hire additional PEP officers.”
According to recent testimony from the Council’s Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan), the Mayor’s budget includes $5 million to prevent PEP layoffs Citywide.
Less than 200 PEP officers patrol all New York City parks, according to City Council documents.