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Safety Concerns Mount After Violence, Thefts at McCarren Pool

By  Jill Colvin and Jesse Lent | July 3, 2012 5:07pm | Updated on July 4, 2012 3:55pm

GREENPOINT — Back-to-back brawls and a slew of thefts are raising questions about safety at the new McCarren Pool — but New Yorkers still packed the pool Tuesday as temperatures continued to soar.

A cop was punched in the face and three people were arrested during a brawl at the pool Monday evening, the second violent incident since the pool reopened last week.

The pool has also had a rash of thefts, with two purses stolen from secured lockers Monday afternoon, police said. The thieves made off with thousands of dollars worth of loot, including two iPhones, credit cards, car keys and nearly $200 in cash, police said.

"It's too big. They just probably need more security, more people at the door,” said Karina Taveras, 32, an executive assistant at a housing nonprofit, as she waited in line at the pool Tuesday morning with her three young kids.

Parks advocates have been raising alarms for several years about the impact of city budget cuts on pool-supervising Parks Department staff, whose ranks have been slashed in recent years. But this year, they say, the situation is out of control.

“It’s outrageous. It’s the wild, wild West out there,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates, who said that, on a typical day at McCarren, there are two police officers, two parks enforcement supervisors, 10 seasonal parks workers and just under a dozen lifeguards on staff — far too few for the pool’s 1,500-person capacity, he said.

"It’s crazy," Croft said, fearing the lack of security compromise lifeguards' safety. "These guys, they’re not armed, they don’t have any weapons. They are literally in Speedos."

Joe Puleo, vice president of Local 983, which represents parks enforcement officers, said with so few supervisors, most of the enforcement work is left to seasonal workers — often college kids or people in job-training programs.

"They receive minimal training. Some not at all. Some one day," said Puleo, who added that the situation at McCarren is compromising the safety of swimmers, as well as lifeguards, who are supposed to be focused on swimmer safety, not breaking up fights.

"When you have these huge complexes, like McCarren, you’re going to need a serious security structure. Otherwise it's going to fall apart, like it's happening now," Puleo said.

"It’s the worst it’s ever been."

Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee,  who spent seven years as a lifeguard when he was younger, said the incidents were alarming.

"It is not the job of the lifeguard to deal with a bunch of thugs who would actually punch a police officer in the face," said Vallone, who blamed the problems on budget cuts that have slashed the police force.

But the Parks Department, which added extra staffers over the weekend to deal with the crowds, insisted the newly renovated pool that had been closed since 1983 is safe.

"Thousands of New Yorkers are enjoying McCarren Park Pool’s beautiful renovation, getting exercise and keeping cool during this heat wave," Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey said in a statement.

"The few minor incidents have not impacted the vast majority of pool attendees, just as similar incidents at pools across the city don’t stop New Yorkers from enjoying themselves."

The Parks Department did not respond to requests for information about staffing levels at McCarren or other pools.

In response to Monday's thefts, staff will increase supervision in locker rooms, including stationing people outside, Niyanni Haynes, 21, a seasonal worker at McCarren Park, told DNAinfo.com New York.

"Things are going to happen. We're going to have break-ins, but we're trying to increase security to protect the safety of pool-goers,” Haynes said.

"Despite a few fights and everything, we try to keep peace and unity."

Crowds who flocked to the pool to beat the heat Tuesday said they weren't concerned about the recent issues.

"Any time you put 1,500 or 1,800 people into a small space there's bound to be an altercation," said Matt Mottel, 30, a professional musician from Bushwick, who said he likes the diversity that the park attracts.

"Do they want this to be the High Line?" he asked. "Right now, it's clearly serving multiple communities, and that's great. That's what Brooklyn is."

Lindsay Mound, 27, an artist who lives in Bushwick, said it's up to pool-goers to be careful with their stuff.

"Don't bring fancy stuff and don't bring a fancy lock that makes it look like you have stuff," she cautioned. "It's New York."

"I think you need to know how to be prepared," agreed Amber Hellman, 29, a footwear designer who lives in Williamsburg.

Despite the recent drama, Taveras, the nonprofit worker and mother of three, said she is thrilled to see the pool open again after all these years.

"Now that I have a family, it's great to bring them back here," she said.

With Meredith Hoffman