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String of Robberies Has Uptowners Demanding More Security in Parks

By Carolina Pichardo | November 30, 2015 7:46am
 The entrance to Fort Tryon Park.
The entrance to Fort Tryon Park.
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Flickr/Adam Fagen

UPTOWN — A recent spate of violent robberies in Northern Manhattan parks has led advocates to demand increased city funding to add Parks Enforcement officers amid a drop in NYPD patrols in the green spaces.

During the 34th Precinct's Community Council Meeting last week, police described a serious robbery pattern in Fort Tryon and Isham parks stretching back to mid-October.

The spree started on the night of Oct. 14 when a resident of Park Terrace was assaulted by two young men in Isham Park who fled the scene, police said. Two weeks later, on Oct. 28, a man jogging in Fort Tryon Park was assaulted by a group that stole his watch, the Manhattan District Attorney said.

The following day, two young men punched and kicked a man walking in Fort Tryon before stealing his wallet and iPhone, authorities said. Then, on Oct. 30, a man stole a phone from a mother breastfeeding her child on a park bench in Fort Tryon Park, police said.

Finally, on Nov. 2, three separate robberies occurred in the area. A man was struck by a group of people in Isham Park who stole his Chinese food and backpack at 6:35 p.m., the DA said. About two hours later, another man was attacked in Fort Tryon Park by a group of people who punched and kicked him before taking his iPhone and cash, officials said. Then, 45 minutes after that, a group of three men held a man at knifepoint and stole his money near Fort Tryon Park, authorities said.

A 16-year-old was eventually arrested and linked to seven of the incidents, authorities said.

The attacks raised concerns among local residents about safety in the green spaces.  

“What can we do to get more police presence in the parks?” asked Inwood resident Susan Ryan, whose husband was viciously attacked in Isham Park as part of a string of incidents in 2012.

Deputy Inspector Chris Morello, commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, acknowledged at the meeting that the three to four NYPD officers formerly dedicated to the park were reassigned under the neighborhood policing program launched earlier this year. 

While his officers still have a presence there, there needs to be more security, he said.

Additionally, the Parks Department has deployed the same number of Parks Enforcement Patrol officers to area parks since 2009 — with one sergeant and four dedicated officers patrolling several green spaces above 125th Street on a daily basis.

These include Fort Tryon Park's 67 acres, Inwood Hill Park's 196 acres and Isham Park's 20 acres, according to the department's website.

While the number of dedicated parks officers has remained steady for years, a spokeswoman confirmed that the agency does increase enforcement when necessary, for events or other special circumstances. 

But Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, and Joseph Puleo, president of Local 983 representing Parks Department workers, said the community should have PEP officers dedicated only to the local parks.

"Parks officers have a relationship with the police department," Puleo said after the meeting. "They can initiate arrests, carry batons, Mace and could be armed — similar to NYPD officers, but they only patrol the parks."

Both Puleo and Croft said local Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez needs to pony up and allocate funding for the Parks Department to add more PEP officers as the Council's proposed budget for 2016 does not include money for that staff

Puleo said he wrote a letter in April to Rodriguez, as well as several other councilmembers, explaining the need to increase the number of dedicated officers in local parks.

“He never wrote back,” Puleo said, noting it's not uncommon to see two PEP officers patrolling an entire borough's parks. “It was like I had given them junk mail.”

Croft and Puleo claimed they have received more than a dozen calls since October, when the robbery pattern started, from local residents wanting more security in the parks. 

“My advice is to start calling Ydanis’ office,” Croft said during the meeting, “and start putting on pressure.”

Rodriguez said he never received a letter from Puleo, adding he was not aware of any recent concerns with crime in local parks.

"I'm willing to meet with [Puleo and Croft]," Rodriguez said, citing the participatory budget process he took part in earlier this year that helped fund several parks projects. "I want to keep bringing resources to the parks."

Croft called for a minimum of 50 dedicated PEP officers to patrol the parks of Northern Manhattan, which has the second-highest amount of green space in the borough.

For Ryan, who has volunteered and worked with parks advocates since 2001, this recent pattern was very alarming.

“If you have police presence,” she said, “it will deter crime.”

“People are afraid to enter the parks,” Puleo said. “It’s too high of a risk.”