NY4P Urges More Comprehensive Tracking of Crime in Parks

Friday, February 10, 2012
Try as some might, it’s nearly impossible to draw conclusions from the NYPD’s park crime statistics.

That’s because the Department only tracks statistics for the city’s 30 largest parks. There are 2,152 in the system. And that’s despite a Local Law 114, enacted in 2005, which mandated that the Department begin, and gradually increase, the tracking of crime data in parks. New Yorkers for Parks has closely followed the issue of safety in parks for decades and played a central role in advocating for the Local Law 114.

The Department should clearly be following that law, and that was the basis of our testimony at a New York City Council hearing last week, held jointly by the committees on Public Safety and Parks & Recreation.

Many New Yorkers are surprised to learn that until five years ago, crimes in parks weren't reported as occurring in a park; instead, the NYPD tracked them to the nearest street address. Responding to a strong advocacy campaign by NY4P and other groups, the City Council, with strong leadership from Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., and Mayor Bloomberg, passed Local Law 114, mandating that the seven major felony crime complaints be tracked in City parks. This legislation marked a first step toward increasing transparency, accountability and public awareness about crimes in parks.

The legislation allowed for a phased implementation, beginning with the city's 20 largest parks. In 2008, the tracking requirement was expanded to 30 parks, and the law called for it to expand to the 100 largest parks one year later, the 200 largest parks two years later, and all parks measuring one acre or greater three years later. The reality has fallen short in two important respects.

Most significantly, no expansion of reporting has taken place since 2008, and the NYPD is still tracking crime in only 30 City parks. But NYPD Governmental Affairs officer Susan Petito testified that the Department lacks the technological capacity to handle such a task.

With such a limited sampling, it’s difficult to accurately analyze crime trends and patterns in parks or draw meaningful conclusions about resource deployment or other safety initiatives.    

Another issue: the City doesn’t make the data publicly available. New Yorkers for Parks’ website – currently under construction – is one of the only places providing the public with the crime data collected on the 30 parks.

Reporting crimes in all large parks is in everyone’s best interest: it will help New Yorkers better understand the reality – or perhaps fallacy – of perceived safety concerns about parks, both generally and specifically, and could lead to a more informed and efficient distribution of police resources.

At the hearing, NY4P and other park advocates urged the Council to work with the NYPD to identify the technological issues hindering the full implementation of this mandate, to develop and release a plan and timeline for overcoming these constraints, and to work closely with the NYPD to ensure that the full program is implemented within that revised timeframe.

Another issue that arose was the lack of Parks Department Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers stationed throughout the park system. While these officers are empowered to issue summonses for quality of life offenses and generally keep the peace, the force is woefully understaffed; there were just 150 PEP officers throughout the five boroughs in 2011 – more than half of which were stationed in Manhattan. Budget cuts at the Department have made it difficult to maintain anywhere near an adequate number of officers.

But William Bayer, a retired 30-year veteran of the NYPD, suggested that the PEP force be run by the NYPD, and not Parks. The NYPD, he said, is far more capable not only of training and overseeing such a force, but also of paying for it. It’s certainly a recommendation worthy of exploration by the Council.

The bulk of the hearing, though, focused on better tracking of crime numbers in parks. And our conclusion on the state of such crimes, was, unfortunately, the same as the Council’s: inconclusive.

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