Homeless Camp. Park Enforcement Patrol officers (PEP) are often confronted with dangerous and unpredictable situations while performing their duties. PEP's ranks have been decimated over the years. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates.) Click on Image to enlarge.
By Geoffrey Croft
Last week 15 Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens wrote to their union to complain about dangerous work conditions caused by the lack of manpower and resources in city parks. The complaints are due in part to a new order dealing with the homeless and the conditions they encounter.
Under the subject line, Fall Tour Changes & Personnel Shortage, the September 21, 2010, letter obtained by A Walk In The Park says, "The following Parks Enforcement Patrol commands were ordered by Arsenal North Management to man two tours [8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.] during the fall/winter time of the year. We are being asked to patrol during the evening hours with a maximum of two officers and & one supervisor. Our main objective on the evening tour would be to focus on the homeless conditions. Some of the homeless conditions that we have encountered during our patrols are seriously mentally ill, combative and emotionally disturbed. This created problems because there are no other patrol units in the borough available to assist.
While on patrol there is no telling when an officer may encounter a violent crime taking place. In the past there has been an increase in rapes, homicides, robberies and muggings. Our belief is that two officers is not enough to handle these types of situations and or conditions with any back up. Sometimes the locations are in remote areas that do not enter into the NYPD, or EMS system for them to respond to us. We are asking that all officers remain on one tour for safety purposes until our staff increases."
Hypodermic needles and empty crack vials at the base of a tree in High Bridge Park.
On Sunday the Daily News observed PEP officers dealing with homeless conditions in Fordham Landing Playground, a four-acre park property off of the Major Deegan Expressway near Fordham Road. PEP and the Daily News spoke to a Little League coach who not only complained about the dangerous conditions in the park but stated that the community has had to deal with the hazards for years. The coach said his league's 300 kids are subjected to seeing the homeless doing drugs, urinating and defecating in the park. "Things you don't want the kids to see," said a parks source.
However, when contacted by the Daily News on Sunday for comment, the Park's Department press office said PEP responded to the scene only after a complaint had been made by the Little League coach and PEP responding was not part of any larger homeless initiative, according to a parks source. The Parks Department press office said that no such homeless order exists.
"When we do participate in (homeless) sweeps, they are performed with the full cooperation of DHS [Department of Homeless Services] and NYPD and after an extended period of outreach," the Parks Department press office told the Daily News.
"They're liars," said a Parks Department source who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation. "They got caught and now they are trying to cover it up."
"Its inconceivable they would do this to their own employees when they are risking their lives every day," said Joe Puleo, Vice President of Local 983. "I'm shocked that they would give false information to the media."
"It doesn't shock me, but it amazes me," said a PEP officer who also spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Last week Local 983 president Mark Rosenthal tried to look into the situation before the order was to be implemented on Sunday. On Thursday he left a message with Parks Assistant Commissioner Michael Dockett, the head of PEP, and asked for a call back "immediately." The call was not returned.
The Park Enforcement ranks have been decimated over the years. The current city budget allocates funds for only 152 officers - down from 212 last year year - and from a high of 450 in the 1990s. This policy means that some boroughs like the Bronx can have as little as one or two officers per shift to patrol nearly 7,000 of acres of parkland. This is in sharp contrast to so called "contract parks" which pay for dedicated PEP to be assigned permanently to work in one park.
The vast majority of PEP are permanently assigned to contract parks which relay on dedicated funding schemes, usually private funds. One exception is the High Line where PEP officers are paid from city funds. The High Line for instance has between nine and eleven officers for less than 3 acres. Further compounding the disparity, PEP officers are often taken out of a borough and moved to a wealthy contract park in order to fulfill the city's contractual obligations.
A PEP officer on the High Line. Public-Private partnerships in wealthy communities have created enormous disparities in the city's park system.
A Walk In The Park - September 28, 2010
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