WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Police in Washington Heights are telling parents to stay alert at area parks after two men approached young children who were separated from their parents and asked them for their names and addresses.
Within the past month, there have been at least three reports of middle-aged men approaching children — one as young as 4 years old — at J. Hood Wright, Bennett, and Isham parks and asked them their names and home addresses. In some cases, the men took pictures of the children, police said.
Barry Buzzetti, the commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, said the behavior raised red "flags," and asked other parents who may have witnessed similar activities, or ever witnessed additional actions, including inappropriate touching or exposure, to contact police.
Buzzetti said one of the men is middle-aged and heavyset with a ponytail. He was last seen at J-Hood Wright and Bennett parks pushing a wheelchair with an American flag on it.
"We don't want to allow that sort of behavior. It raises flags," said at Wednesday night's precinct council meeting.
He added that because the current reported activities are not criminal offenses, police could not arrest the men even if they were spotted.
"We're going to strongly discourage him from doing this. As it stands, we can have a strongly worded discussion," but he added, "If someone that could say they've seen criminal activity, it would be a different discussion and we could arrest them."
One Inwood mom said her 4-year-old daughter was approached in Isham Park as she was sitting on a bench a short distance away from the mother's nanny.
She said a middle-aged man walked up to her child and told her that he had taken pictures of her.
"Why would you go around taking pictures of someone else's kids?" the mother said. "It's just creepy."