WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — More than 30 officers will be added to neighborhood patrols in an effort to address crime and improve quality of life following a string of crimes in Northern Manhattan parks, officials said.
The increase — a total of 14 Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers and 17 NYPD officers — was announced during a Community Board 12 meeting Tuesday night that brought together a host of city officials to discuss the issue.
The packed meeting included dozens of residents and representatives from the Parks Department, NYPD, FDNY, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and several elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine.
Michael Dockett, an assistant commissioner for the Parks Department, said a PEP captain, two sergeants and five officers were added to the department's patrol in Highbridge Park this past week. The agency will also add a new trailer near Highbridge Pool, as well as bringing in additional officers at the end of June, he said.
“This will bring our main command to 11 officers,” Dockett said, adding that the three coming in June will be non-shielded officers who will work seasonally and have a “uniformed presence” in the parks.
Moreover, two mounted units and a group of PEP trainees will patrol on occasion, he noted.
"These officers are based in Highbridge Park — that’s where they report," Dockett explained. "They then go on patrol."
Capt. Peter Andrea of the 34th Precinct said his precinct will be adding 17 probationary officers over the next few months, with two or three specifically dedicated to local parks.
He said the department generally has neighborhood coordination officers (NCO) patrolling inside the parks, although they often dispatch response cars as well. Andrea explained that the precinct has two NCOs for each of the four neighborhood sectors — Inwood, Fort George, Washington Heights and Hudson Heights — in addition to approximately 12 auxiliary officers per night.
“[With] the NCO program, you see more cars out there and better response time,” Andrea said, adding that’s how the precinct patrols parks.
Lt. Caraballo of the neighboring 33rd Precinct said his precinct has the same number of NCOs as the 34th, with additional patrol cars driving along Highbridge Park “with their lights on” between 170th and 155th streets and Edgecombe Avenue.
He added that another car will patrol along Riverside Drive from 165th Street to the inside of the park toward the The Little Red Lighthouse.
Residents said that despite the bulked-up numbers, more needs to be done, especially when it comes to enforcing current laws and making sure people aren’t littering or playing loud music in the parks.
“We need to do better,” Councilman Rodriguez said. “Every year we need to keep pushing for more.”
Rodriguez added that he sent a letter, also signed by Councilman Levine and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, to the Parks Department commissioner Tuesday afternoon, asking that the PEP officers recently released by the Battery Park City Authority be reassigned to Inwood Hill, Highbridge and Fort Tryon parks.
"You can't talk about public safety in New York City without talking about city parks," Levine said. "While we're fighting for a fair share for Uptown, we've got to fight for more PEP officers citywide, and ultimately that's going benefit Uptown and make this problem easier to solve."
Levine noted that adding more PEP officers is an issue of the city budget, which is going to be passed in the next five to six weeks. He encouraged residents to contact all elected officials and let them know their concerns regarding parks safety.