Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Isham Park Camera Cover Up - Installed To Thwart Crime But Not Turned On

"I've got a list 8 pages long of crimes that have happened in Isham and Inwood Parks over the last couple of years. Crimes have happened  between  7am and 8pm. The only time that crimes are NOT happening is at the times the Parks Dept is turning the camera on. How on earth is this an efficient use of our tax dollars?"  -  Susan Ryan

Isham Park Memorial Circle where the Parks Department (DPR) installed a camera (top right) in July 2012 after a string of violent attacks in an around the park.  According to the agency the camera carries a 24-hour live feed.  However NYC Park Advocates has learned that the camera is only recording a few hours a day - 24 hour feed to nowhere -  in the middle of the night when the park is closed. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge. 

Not Really.  The camera records from 1am to 5am.  Instead of fixing the problem and being honest with the community who have repeatedly inquired about the hours of operation the Parks Department instead has chosen not to cooperate.  "I feel that advertising/posting what the two cameras NYC Parks has purchased for Isham Park do and dont cover and when would minimize their effectiveness as a crime deterrent," wrote the Park Administrator to nieghborhood resident Susan Ryan.

Ms. Ryan and other community residents are organizing around the greater need for park maintenance and safety. 


By Geoffrey Croft

A security camera installed in a known crime area in an upper Manhattan park is only being turned on for a few hours a day - after the park is closed NYC Park Advocate has learned. 

A camera was installed in Isham Park  under the direction of the Parks Department after a string of violent attacks in and around the park including a particularly violent mugging last June that left a Grammy Award winning husband and parent requiring surgery to his face.

For years residents have been calling for increased security and better maintenance in and around Isham and Inwood Hill Parks and along Park Terrace East & West after repeated incidents.

A review of crime on these park properties since 2010 alone reveal more than 20 incidents including muggings, sexual assaults and car break-ins. 

The camera in Isham Park is only turned on between the hours of 1am - 5am after the 20 acre park is closed.

The camera's hours of operation revelation came to light recently when members of the community complained about illegal drug activity in the park and asked the NYPD's 34th Pct. to review the footage. The police were unable to. 

The Parks Department was informed by the contractor that the footage was not available because the camera was not turned on according to several city sources. 

"This is beyond ridiculous, " said Susan Ryan whose husband Michael O'Reilly was violently mugged in June 2012 while walking home from work thorough Isham Park.

"What's the point of having it when its not recording. We depend on it being  up here to deter crime and to help catch criminals.   We average about mugging  a month up here."

Bloody Sweatshirt - Michael O'Reilly was wearing during June 6, 2012 violent assault that occured at that location.  

On the evening of June 6th at approximately 7:30 pm Susan's husband Michael entered Isham Park from Broadway after just having exited the subway as many residents do. He passed a man texting on the first ledge beside an enormous Gingko tree, a person they now think was a look-out for his criminal partners. 

Mr. O' Reilly was walking on a main path that cuts  through the park when he saw two young hispanics near Memorial Circle.  One was siting on a granite bench and the other was leaning up against the ledge across from him. 

As he made is way past them he was suddenly attacked and punched in the face by one of the assailants.  They pushed him down on the bench and held him down by his neck. They took $ 40 dollars and placed is wallet into his back pocket. They then ran off.

Mr. O' Reilly called his wife and who arrived a few minutes later.

"I came out to help him. He was covered in blood," said Susan.

"There was blood all over the bench."  

The one consolation they thought was that the City had originally installed a flashcam camera less than eight feet away literally directly above where her husband had just been mugged.   They were in for another surprise. Unbeknownst to them the camera had been removed. 

"I looked up the camera was not there," she said. "We had no idea they moved the camera. You can still see the bracket where it was mounted."

They later found out flash cam was moved to Park Terrace East.

"I feel this is an area where people know they can make quick cash,"  she said. 

Approximately 5 weeks later a contractor working under the Parks Department installed a brand new fixed camera that covered the area.

"That camera is valuable tool that the police need. We just found out there was another violent crime across the street in Inwood Hill.

For months  Ms. Ryan has been trying to get information about the camera from the Parks Department but has been stonewalled. 

"They tried to cover it up," she said.  

"On March 26th, one week ago, I called you and told you about the need to get the film from the camera in Isham Park in order to review if for illegal activity.," Ms. Ryan wrote to Jeniffer Hoppa,  Administrator Northern Manhattan Parks.

"You told me by phone on March 26th that you would follow up to get access to the film in order to give the film to the 34th precinct for their review.  I followed up on March 27th by email and you did reply saying that you were meeting with the camera contractor on March 28th. 

This is now the 3rd email I have had to send to you since that time in order to find out what is going on with the video footage from that camera and the availability of it's review for the NYPD.

It is very unsettling that this information has not been forthcoming and that it has been so challenging to get what should be basic, readily available information.

It is especially concerning in light of not just what happened to my husband, but to several community members who have been victims of crimes in Isham Park and who are all community stake holders who have legitimate concerns about Park Safety in Isham Park and the effect that illegal activity in the park has for us all," she wrote.

The camera records from 1am to 5am.

Mrs. Ryan said the Park manager refused to respond to questions via email and said she would only discuss the matter by phone.  

"….I feel that advertising/posting what the two cameras NYC Parks has purchased for Isham Park do and dont cover and when would minimize their effectiveness as a crime deterrent," wrote Jeniffer Hoppa,  Administrator Northern Manhattan Parks in a April 3rd email to Mrs. Ryan.

Ms. Hoppa then represented that she had informed several other community members about the camera. However Mrs. Ryan said when her neighbors were contacted to confirm this they said this issue had not been discussed with Ms. Hoppa.

"For the last couple of months I've been trying to get basic information. They haven't given me anything. The purpose of the camera is to make people safer.  I feel betrayed by them.  For the  last 10 or 11 months this community has been under the impression that the camera is actually working.  

They (Parks Department)  lied to us. It's makes me really angry. They knew that camera did not work."

Michael O'Reilly who had his nose broken in the June mugging which required surgery also feels betrayed.

"It seems a reasonable assumption that the camera I and all my neighbors have walked passed the last 9 or 10 months is actually recording information during the daylight hours and into the early evening when the majority of the crimes have taken place, " Mr.  O'Reilly said.

"Alas it feels like a betrayal of trust in the park departments ability to take any real effectual action to make the park safer." 

Ms. Ryan said yesterday after the Daily News ran a story a nieghbor sent her an email blasting the DPR's "excuse" for not having adequate memory to record from the tax payer funded camera.

"At my home our nanny cam records 36 hours continuously at 30fps with 4 GB. This means they only have same ~4GB capacity -- maybe smaller?   I think 128 GB SDHX cards are $120 on amazon. Or that much space on a big disk drive is practically free. You can also turn down fps from say 30 to 20 and get a boost in capacity. $30k and they cheap out on storage."   

J.A. Reynolds, an Inwood resident for 45 years has been volunteering in the park since 1970 when he and his wife and then 5-year-old son began cleaning up debris. They eventually built one of the city's first community gardens from a former garbage strewn part of the park, a garden that still flourishes today. 

"I've known about the crime for 40 years," said Mr. Reynolds who pointed out the need for greater maintenance to help improve park safety. 

"I'd like to see the Forestry Department do their job," he said adding the increased visibility and site lines would help.
He said the area of the park where they created the garden was filled with dumped automobile parts and kitchen appliances  people had thrown out of windows. 

His son Bruce, who grew up to be a Port Authority police officer,  tragically died on 9/11. The garden is named after him in his honor. 

Mr. Ryan and other community residents are organizing around the greater need for park maintenance and safety. 

On April 3, NYC Park Advocates asked the Parks Department's press office seven questions. Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Speaker Quinn and Juli Wood from the Mayor's office were also cc:ed. 

On April 12th - after repeated inquires - Arthur Pincus for the Parks Department responded.
They refused to answer all but a half of one question.  

"There are two cameras in Isham Park.  One is located at Memorial Circle, where the incident you referenced took place.  It carries a 24-hour live feed and we are working to ensure that the NYPD has access to that feed.  It can record various time periods and we are coordinating the appropriate time periods with the NYPD to maximize the camera's effectiveness. However, we will not announce the specific hours that the camera records as that would hinder its effectiveness as a deterrent. 

The second camera in Isham Park is a flash cam.  It is located at Park Terrace East Circle.  It takes photographs at night and serves as a deterrent for people to leave the park after its closure." 

On April 12th in response I wrote:

Dear Arthur,

I asked seven questions and only one of them was answered and only partially.

Question: 1. Can someone explain why the camera is not on 24/7.  You responded that the camera carries a 24-hour live feed but you did not say whether or not it was in fact on 24/7 and/or if that feed was being monitored for that entire 24 hours time frame.   You did not explain why it can  "record various time periods" but why is wasn't recording 24/7 and being monitored  24/7.

Questions: 2 -5  I would also like to know the hours the camera is in operation, the date it was installed, the cost, and by whom and how the camera is being monitored.    Non of these questions were answered.

With regard to one of them you state,  "we will not announce the specific hours that the camera records as that would hinder its effectiveness as a deterrent."

This response is irresponsible and unacceptable on many levels.  I won't even bother to respond accept to state the obvious: If the Parks Department was interested in using the camera as an effective deterrent than the camera's feed would run 24/7 and be monitored during that time instead of for four hours during the night when the park is closed and when no one is in and when no crime occurs.  The camera was purchased as a deterrent as well very importantly to help the police solve any crimes that occur in the vicinity.  Clearly with these extremely limited hours the camera is not serving that purpose, and we are demanding to know why.

The community as well as law enforcement has a right to know why. They must also be given every tool available to help make our community's safer.

Your refusal to release the hours is made all the more ridiculous considering the information you are desperately trying to prevent the public being made aware of I already know.  Why your agency continues to insist on this gotcha  mentality is beyond me. 

Again, your response to our request is clearly an effort to withhold information that is critical to the public's safety.  The community has depended on that camera being usable which includes producing data to aid law enforcement 24/7.   Your agency is further putting the public in danger by withholding these facts.  

We will not accept any attempts by your office to cover up, prevent , or delay the release of this important public safely information. 

The pubic has every right to know that the camera they bought is not being used properly why. Trying to cover that up is unacceptable.  It is deplorable you are  still attempting to withhold this information. 

Note: To date we have received no further response.

Read More:

New York Daily News - June 2, 2013 -  By Thomas Tracy 

DNAinfo has reported on numerious incdents over the last few years.   

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