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Battery Park City Authority To Cut Park Officers Despite Local Protest

By Irene Plagianos | December 17, 2015 6:35pm
 The Authority is moving forward with an unpopular plan to swap park officers for private security.
The Authority is moving forward with an unpopular plan to swap park officers for private security.
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DNAinfo/Christian McLamb

BATTERY PARK CITY — The Battery Park City Authority is moving forward with a controversial plan to hire a private security firm and slash the number of Park Enforcement Patrol officers, despite protest from local elected officials and community residents.

The news of the authority's decision came out during a heated, and packed, community forum with the BPCA, the governing body of the neighborhood, Wednesday night. 

In previous weeks, elected officials and Community Board 1 had called on the BPCA to halt its contract process with private security firm AlliedBarton, saying the plan was put into motion without any public input — and with little explanation as to why the authority was making the change.

At the meeting, BPCA officials initially told the crowd of more than 100 people that their contract with the PEP officers was "still in effect." But later, when Assemblywoman Deborah Glick asked follow-up questions, during an open question portion of the meeting — a fuller, and much more disputed security plan was brought forth.

The contract with the private security firm was already signed, Dennis Mehiel, chairman of the BPCA said. While the contract with the PEP officers is only guaranteed through Jan. 31 — the BPCA remains in negotiations with officers about how many will remain, Mehiel said. 

Residents have repeatedly voiced concerns about the security change. PEP officers secure the area's 36 acre of parkland and, unlike security guards, are able to issue summonses and make arrests. 

Residents accused the BPCA of deliberately obfuscating the truth, and not giving direct answers as to why they were making the security change.

"For the record, part of why we're so frustrated as a community is the miscommunication and half-truths that are coming forward," said Justine Cuccia, a resident, causing the room to errupt in applause.

"What really rankles and makes everybody in this room angry is that if we had not asked the question, we all would have walked out of here with the assumption that the PEP contract was in place and nothing changed."

Mehiel also said that the security contract was put out publicly in a request for proposal (RFP) process and that the PEP could have — but did not — apply.

That claim was disputed at a previous CB1 meeting, by Michael Dockett, the assistant commissioner for Urban Park Service, at the City's Department of Parks and Recreation, who said they were "not asked to respond."

The night continued with several residents voicing concern about trust being broken with the BPCA, citing a variety of recent decisions they said the BPCA has made without consulting the community.

Over the past several months, some unpopular moves by the BPCA include pushing out a beloved operator of the North Cove Marina, as well as the longtime executive director of the Battery Park City Conservancy, Tessa Huxley.

Pat Smith, a longtime resident, said he was dismayed by recent BPCA decisions and that its leadership needs to be replaced, which elicited cheers. BPCA officials are chosen by the governor.

Smith said there was a "general attitude" that the BPCA members are "lords of the manor" and residents "are the peasants."

Mehiel acknowledged  that the BPCA "has to do better" when it comes to community engagement, which was the reason for the community forum. He also said their intent was not to mislead residents.

After an hour and a half meeting the board ended the forum to boos from the crowd. The BPCA had initially allotted an hour for the community forum — its first in several years. The BPCA plans to continue holding the meetings quarterly.