Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Coney Island's Steeplechase Pier On Lock Down After Exposé

From Famine to Feast. Park Enforcement Patrol officers (PEP) and Summer Seasonal Aid park security personnel man checkpoints at Steeplechase Pier in Coney Island on Monday.    "The pier is closed until further notice!" a Parks officer repeatedly called out. "Fishermen only!"   
By Geoffrey Croft
Coney Island Beach goers found the popular Steeplechase Pier closed to anyone without a fishing pole. 
The new policy was enacted in response to yesterday's front page Daily News article -  initiated by NYC Park Advocates and Local 983 the union that represents PEP officers. The piece exposed that the city had been allowing the public to jump from the pier for years despite a record setting lawsuit against it and the Parks Department. Two brother's from Staten Island were hurt including one who was paralyzed in the 90's.
A few weeks earlier, on June 14th, a 16-year-old male broke both legs after jumping from the pier at 1:30 in the afternoon.  Weeks later the city still hadn't bothered to address the dangerous situation despite being put on notice that the public were regularly using the pier to jump and dive off it. 
After the article broke the Parks Department pulled all four of its PEP officers assigned to patrol Brooklyn to cover the pier leaving no officers available in the entire borough on the busiest weekend of the year. A total of 17 PEP and park security personnel were deployed to the pier on Monday. On Tuesday Brooklyn had just two officers for the entire borough.
Before the front page Daily News story broke a Parks Department flak told a reporter that there were two park employees stationed at the pier. Neither myself, Local 983 vice president Joe Puleo who represents PEP officers saw any officers there while visiting on several occasions including a day earlier.

The reporter visited on another day did not see any either. Numerous people including parks employees were unable to verify the DPR's account. Asked to explain that inconsistency the Parks Department press office refused.
After being pressed the press officer said the pier was now being patrolled "regularly" but refused to provide specifics when further pressed. 
"That's a lie," a PEP officer said  at the scent when asked to respond to the press office telling a reporter that the agency had assigned two security personnel to the pier.
"They put people in danger by saying that."

On Lockdown. One of the Steeplechase Pier checkpoints on Monday. No one was admitted on to the pier unless they had a shirt.

Officers say they have had to endure the pubic throwing rocks and bottles at them. 
On June 2, PEP were forced to call in an 1085 - officer needs assistance - after being surrounded by an unruly mob. That same day a man was repeatedly cut with a straight edged razor on the pier after a fight broke out between four girls. 
Less than an hour later five teens were shot less than a mile away on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach. "Its death trap over here," said another officer.
First Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Liam Kavanaugh, Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey, and the head of PEP Assistant Commissioner of Urban Park Services Michael Dockett all were on the scene yesterday afternoon after the story broke.
Kavanaugh thanked the troops, while Mr. Dockett complained that a few CSA's sought shelter from the blazing sun under Park's Department logo adorned umbrellas according to sources, which incensed the workers.
"They were out there since 8:00 am in very adverse conditions," said a parks worker who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation.    
"You would think he would have something positive to say. Thank us for doing a good job. But no."
Several officers blamed Assistant Commissioner Dockett for the dangerous situation at the pier. 
"He has zero law enforcement experience," said another parks employee. "He doesn't fully understand our job. He doesn't care.
"His whole existence is to satisfy Adrian, Liam and Jeffery," said another. "He has no idea what he's doing. He's gotta go."
A Parks' press representative said that the allegations of Mr. Dockett's lack of enforcement experience were, "Inaccurate."
"Mike Dockett began his career as an Urban Park Ranger, and like all Urban Park Rangers received the same training as PEP officers,"  Vickie Karp wrote in an email.
"He first received New York City Special Patrolman and New York State Peace Officer status in 1988. He has overseen PEP, Urban Park Rangers, and Communications for many years, so he is exceptionally qualified in enforcement by virtue of his many years of experience."
Officers point out that although Rangers now have peace officer status their job is primarily consists of educational and environmental work.  For PEP officers there is a very clear distinction between the law enforcement duties they do and the responsibilities of Park Rangers. The DPR in its own literature also acknowledges this.
Officers also point out that Mr. Dockett did not receive his peace officer status until at least five years after 1988. Rangers did not have peace officer status until after the 1991 layoffs. Also in 1988 PEP and Rangers did not receive the same training. 1997 was the first year they combined the Rangers and PEP classes. Prior to that Rangers did not receive the PEP law enforcement training, as a result Rangers were not required to carry cuffs, batons, and as is the practice today.  Rangers are discouraged from carrying utility belts with defensive items etc.
Mrs. Karp refused to respond to these allegations and apparent inconsistencies including what year Mr. Docket received his NY State municipal Police Training Academy certificate.
"Parks Enforcement officers are expected to actively patrol their assigned areas," Ms. Karp wrote.
"It is not unreasonable for a supervisor or manager to remind employees of their duties."  
The officers point out that the umbrella's were stationed at the checkpoints - the designated posts - which is where the officers were detailed  and noted that they were performing their duties.  The umbrella's did not interfere with their performance and actually just the opposite as they provided them with a bit of relief from the intense sun which enabled them to stay out longer. 
"They can't help lying," said another PEP officer in response to the Parks Department's comments.

The NYPD also increased their presence at the entrance to Steeplechase Pier.

By the afternoon the Parks Department relented and began to allow the general public access to the pier as long as you had a shirt.
"The situation might have turned ugly had the Parks officers themselves not been so pleasant and polite,"  the Daily News wrote in a follow up.
 "When we get the word, we'll be glad to let you guys back," said a sergeant whose name tag read Y. Cyriaque. "Have a great Fourth of July."
Nobody jumped, but who knows what was happening in the rest of Brooklyn the Parks officers would have been covering, the News noted.
The public getting hurt on the pier wasn't the only issue that dominated the front pages of the newspapers this weekend. The lack of toilet paper in the park's bathrooms located a 150 feet away also made news. 

A contingent of The Guardian Angels check out the Pier. Curtis Sliwa, the Angel's founder cited Illegal gambling, vendors and people jumping as just some of pier's normal activities. 
(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)

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