By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — The parks officers in Battery Park City are out of control, residents said at heated public meeting Tuesday night.
Residents complained that the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, who guard the neighborhood's green spaces, treat dog walkers like criminals and overzealously enforce some rules while ignoring others.
"This is not Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany," said Jeff Galloway, a Community Board 1 member and co-founder of the Battery Park City Dog Association. "This is our backyard."
The community board called the meeting about PEP officers following a physical altercation between a local resident and an officer Jan. 29. The resident, Adam Pratt, received a criminal court summons and was taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Witnesses claimed the PEP officers used undue force with Pratt, and the city is investigating the matter.
On Tuesday night, many residents said that while some PEP officers are friendly and helpful, bad behavior is the norm.
"They're insulting, condescending, rude and arrogant," Richard Balestrino, 61, a longtime Battery Park City resident. "They walk by us like we're murderers, for god's sake. We live here."
A 16-year-old Battery Park City resident, told a story about a male PEP officer in his 20s who tried to hit on her. When she walked away from him, he called her back and demanded to see her ID.
She said she has also seen the officers kick teenagers out of sports fields and basketball courts, saying they are too old to play there.
Other residents complained that the PEPs spend their shifts chatting with each other or tapping on their cell phones, ignoring speeding cyclists and disruptive skateboarders.
Battery Park City has 31 PEP officers assigned to patrol its 36 acres of parkland, paid for by the Battery Park City Authority. Most city parks, by comparison, share their officers with many other green spaces.
In 2010, the officers issued 218 summonses in Battery Park City, of which more than half were for alcohol consumption, Parks Department officials said. They also wrote more than 3,000 parking tickets and made eight arrests.
Gayle Horwitz, president of the Battery Park City Authority, told residents that she is willing to reexamine the presence of the PEPs if they are no longer serving the residents.
"We have no tolerance for anyone who is not working with the best interest of the community in mind," Horwitz said
After the Jan. 29 incident, Horwitz arranged for all PEP officers to receive additional training and she convinced Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to institute a zero-tolerance policy for PEP misbehavior in Battery Park City, she said.
Horwitz told residents Tuesday night that she would hold quarterly town hall meetings with them and the Parks Department to monitor the issue.
Assistant Parks Commissioner Michael Dockett and Inspector Robert Reeves, who oversee the PEPs, attended Tuesday's meeting and committed to work with the residents.
"We are going to fix this problem," Reeves said.