Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dangerous Criminals Being Hired At Parks

Parks Dept. hires workers despite major criminal rap sheets, advocates charge
Some dangerous criminals have been hired at Parks.  Robert Swann, who was hired despite a lengthy rap sheet which includes arrests for assault and weapons, was charged in the killing of a co-worker at the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing on September 4, 2012.  (Photo: William Miller)
What exactly might cause the Parks Department not to hire a perspective employee? According to the Parks Department spokesperson as long as the applicant "didn't exhibit anti-social or disruptive behavior during the hiring process we would decline to hire that person.”

The issue is compounded because for years the City's elected officials have refused to allocate proper resources for the Parks Department so the agency has relied on hiring personnel with questionable backgrounds.

It’s the Department of Perps and Recreation.
Advocates say the city Parks Department overlooks the sordid results of its background checks on job applicants — and even puts new hires in the field before the criminal screening is complete, according to the New York Post. 
“When you go into your public park, you should know if the person working there is a murderer, sexual predator or bank robber,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates.
The ex-cons on the payroll included:
* Vernon Gowdy, a Central Park maintenance man who was once busted for groping a female co-worker while exposing himself. Before being hired by the city, Gowdy did a five-year prison stint for armed robbery. He also was arrested in 2001 for the decade-old murder of a Bronx woman, but the DA declined to prosecute despite a DNA match.
The now-suspended Gowdy ironically became a public face of the parks system when he was featured in the 2007 documentary “The Pool,” which chronicled a day at a Lower East Side public pool.
According to the film’s Web site, the story follows “park employee and ex-convict” Gowdy, who “never thought ‘in a thousand million years’ that he would get a job as a city employee.”
Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan allegedly flashed a teen.
A Parternership For Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan was arrested in July after allegedly exposing himself to a teen at Marcus Garvey Park in Manhattan. Days later he was charged for multiple sex acts involving minors.

* Parks coordinator Kaceen Jordan, who was arrested in Harlem in July for allegedly flashing a 15-year-old boy while off-duty — nearly a decade after a similar incident involving a 12-year-old. Days after the July arrest, Jordan was charged in Brooklyn for a spree of sex acts involving minors from March to June, according to court documents.
* Robert Swann, 51, a Parks staffer who allegedly killed co-worker Ezra Black, 31, with a knife in a fight over picking up a garbage bag. The killing happened in broad daylight at a recreation center in Queens. Swann’s rap sheet before his hiring included gun and theft arrests.
Shockingly, even when the city is aware of an applicant’s violent past, the job seeker is not automatically rejected for work in the parks.
“A criminal record in and of itself does not disqualify an applicant,” agency spokeswoman Vickie Karp said. “If the offenses involve recent behavior, or if an applicant exhibits anti-social or disruptive behavior during the hiring process, we would decline to hire that person.”
Karp said the city collects fingerprints, which are sent to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. The state then checks for convictions through an FBI search.
The background review continues during the term of employment if new details are brought to Parks’ attention, Karp said. She refused to say whether workers are put into the field before background checks are complete — which several Parks employees told The Post was common practice.
“You’re getting people out of the welfare rolls that aren’t screened, and they’re put in jobs that are sensitive,” said Joe Puleo, vice president of the union that represents Parks enforcement officers.
“The question is, what will make them disqualify someone?”
In the fatal stabbing, the cleanup crew came from Job Training Participants, a program of nearly 3,000 welfare recipients who earn $9.21 an hour. The welfare workers make up a third of city Parks employees.
State law prohibits employers from “unfair discrimination” against candidates based on criminal record, unless a job seekers’ offenses are directly linked to the job for which they’re applying. A convicted shoplifter, for example, should not be denied a gig as a tree pruner under the law.
But John Jay College professor Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop and prosecutor, said the city must disqualify job seekers with violent criminal histories in order to protect the public.
“It shocks the conscience that [some of these people] were hired,” said O’Donnell. “This is an agency where people are out unsupervised and interacting with people. Some unfair judgments should be made to err on the side of caution.”
A former Parks personnel employee told The Post the agency sets a low bar for new hires.
“They hold them to a different standard than other city workers,” she said. “As long as you tell them up front [about a past crime], they’ll let you in. They let murderers in.”
One of her welfare workers was hired 11 years ago despite being convicted of manslaughter.
When the department learned he recently had a physical altercation with his teen son, they fired him and cited his criminal background.
New recruits even brag about their bad raps.
“They’re not shy about it. They like to let everybody know they’re criminals,” said one Parks employee. “Even the last incident [in Queens], the man was letting everybody know he was going to kill this guy.”
Another Parks worker said she’s been threatened by trainees who were never given proper background checks.
When she asked him to help shovel sand off the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, he went nuts.
One agency supervisor said he had a Parks security officer in the field before his criminal past resurfaced five months later.
The ex-con was required to prove his gun-possession charges had been cleared, but couldn’t get documentation and was fired.
“We’ve had [workers] that were involved in gun possession, prostitution, domestic violence, narcotics, a slew of things,” said the supervisor. “The city says they were cleared, and they find out later on that they had this in their past.”
Additional reporting by Kathianne Boniello and Kirstan Conley
Read More:

New York Post - By Kate Briqelet - September 30, 2012

A Walk In The Park - September 5, 2012 - By Geoffrey Croft

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