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Gramercy Park to Get Its Own 'Ring of Steel' with New Security Cameras

By Mary Johnson | August 20, 2012 6:48am

GRAMERCY — New York’s exclusive Gramercy Park is already kept under lock and key, but now the park’s trustees are adding another layer of security: video surveillance.

The move to add security cameras around the pristine park, similar to the so-called "Ring of Steel" network in lower Manhattan installed after 9/11, comes in the wake of an attempted purse snatch inside one of the tony surrounding buildings.

The incident took place on Sat., Aug. 11, when a man followed a female resident inside 38 Gramercy Park North and up to the building’s second floor, said Deputy Inspector Ted Berntsen, commanding officer of the 13th Precinct.

There, the man tried to grab the woman’s purse. She screamed, Berntsen said, and the would-be thief ran down the stairs and out of the building.

Nothing was taken, and no one was injured in the incident. Berntsen said the building was outfitted with security cameras, and police are now looking through surveillance video as part of their investigation.

An incident like what occurred on Aug. 11 is rare in the area around Gramercy Park, said Berntsen, who noted that the 13th Precinct’s stationhouse is just a block away.  

“It’s one of our quietest areas in the precinct. It’s all residential there,” he said. “You’re either walking through or you work there.”

Joshua Silver, president of the board at 38 Gramercy Park, said the attempted theft was the first such attack in recent neighborhood memory.

The building, which has about 35 residents, is one of few on the block without a doorman, Silver said. Instead, the entrance is protected by two locked doors.

“Nothing like this has ever happened,” Silver said. “It feels like a safe neighborhood so [our residents] felt safe entering the building.”

In the wake of Tuesday’s incident, Silver contacted the Gramercy Park Block Association to notify the rest of the neighborhood and encourage everyone to be more vigilant.

The neighborhood, however, appears to be taking things a step further.

The trustees of Gramercy Park decided to install security cameras around the historic green space, which is already guarded by a tall, wrought-iron fence topped with spires.

Arlene Harrison, a trustee of the park and president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, said the installation for the cameras began on Tuesday, with the trustees footing the bill for the boosted security.

Harrison said the park’s trustees have considered adding security cameras in the past — to help curb periodic instances of vandalism, graffiti, bicycle thefts and trampled shrubbery — but the recent incident provided the extra push.

“My goal is to get more eyes on the street,” said Harrison, who declined to specify how much the surveillance system cost. “[Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly has said that [video surveillance] is so essential in crime fighting that I feel it’s almost an obligation for us to help the police.

“It’s also important to be a good neighbor,” Harrison added. “Our main mission is safety, security and quality of life.”

And the private park isn’t the only spot in Gramercy that is planning a security upgrade. Harrison said the board presidents and superintendents of several buildings around the park have contacted her and said they want to help the police with any investigation work they have to do.

“Toward that end, they are upgrading their systems,” Harrison explained. “Those that don’t have [cameras] are installing them, and others are adding to them, putting cameras out on the street.

“The focus is not so much the park; it’s the neighborhood,” she added.

Berntsen has offered to send the precinct’s crime prevention unit to area buildings to give safety lectures and check the security of locks and windows. He said he is also a “big fan” of surveillance cameras, calling them "a great investigative tool."

Silver said that although the cameras at 38 Gramercy Park North were installed a year ago, mainly to police litter problems and damage to tree pits in front of the building, they became a tremendous asset for police in light of the attempted bag snatch..

“[The police] got a very clear shot of the guy,” Silver said, “and they were able to construct a very clear time frame of what happened.”