According to Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers, the small number of them in most parts of the city makes it impossible to stay on top of quality of life issues and more serious crime.
"The whole force for the Bronx, the total number they have, and that includes our mounted patrol, is eight,” said Joe Puleo of the Parks Enforcement Officers Union.
There are about 176 PEP officers, who do not carry guns, across the city. More than half are in Manhattan. The Bronx, with the most city park land, has the fewest park officers.
The Parks Department has been using people on public assistance in a jobs training program to help out. But one PEP officer, who did not want to be identified, says the trainees are not certified for security work.
"If we have an arrest, if a person cannot help you cuff a person or restrain an individual or use a baton or use a radio to call using the various codes that you use, you are in trouble,” said the officer.
The union says it is filing a grievance with the city because the Parks Department has temporary trainees riding in patrol vehicles with officers.
"I have been told they have been requesting all of the boroughs to do so,” said Puleo.
The Parks Department says job training participants are a uniformed presence that carry portable radios and act as eyes and ears for officers, but stresses the New York City Police Department is the principal anti-crime force for the parks.
"We have fewer staff than we did last year at this time. But we are still out there doing our jobs,” said Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh. “Again, PEP officers should not put themselves in a position where there personal safety is jeopardized."
Last month an officer ended up in the hospital.
"When the PEP officer confronted this individual he became irate and punched and kicked her,” said the union representative.
There are also concerns privately funded facilities like Battery Park City and Hudson River Park have more officers, because they can pay for them.
A PEP officer on the High Line. Public-Private partnerships in wealthy communities have created enormous disparities in the city's park system. 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.
“We may be seeing a disparity in the way some parks are treated over others,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. “And that is not something we should not tolerate in this city.”
The councilwoman says she may hold hearings on these concerns.