QUEENS — The number of parks officers in Queens will be doubled to 36 soon — part of a citywide effort to boost manpower in the greenspaces.
Some of the new Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers have already started patrolling the area, others are still in training, a spokesman for the Parks Department said. The total number given by the Parks Depatment includes supervisors.
The manpower increase comes as a series of sexual attacks in Forest Park and residents' concerns about safety in the greenspaces. It also comes after a long-time push by advocates to increase staffing.
A 23-year-old jogger was Tasered and sexually assaulted in the park in March, and a 69-year-old woman was raped last Monday.
But the Parks Department said there is no connection between the attacks and new hires. The decision was made to bring them on earlier this year.
The new officers, who do not have police powers, will patrol various parks around the borough, according to need, the agency said. It is not clear how many will be monitoring Forest Park.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who has called for more PEP officers after the assaults in Forest Park, welcomed the increase.
“We are obviously glad that they [Parks Department] are hiring new officers and we’ll see how that helps,” said Eric Yun, a spokesman for Crowley. “But if there needs to be more [officers], we’ll definitely keep pressing them [Parks Department].”
The additional officers in Queens are part of a citywide Parks Department manpower boost that will increase the number of PEP officers to about 161, from 80.
The agency is currently also hiring foresters, climbers, pruners, plumbers and other maintenance workers, the Parks Department said.
Joseph Puleo, the president of DC 37 Local 983, the union that represents PEP officers, said Queens parks struggle with a number of issues, including "out of control" illegal vending in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
In the mid-1990s, Puleo said, the city had its highest number of PEP officers — 450, about 40 of whom worked in Queens.
PEP officers focus on issues such as illegal vending, littering, crowd control during events and people dumping garbage, according to the Parks Department.
They also help park-goers who need assistance.