WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Despite calls by locals to add more parks officers uptown in the wake of several high-profile crimes, northern Manhattan parks — including Fort Tryon Park, Highbridge Park and Inwood Hill Park — will continue to have 14 officers patrolling the area, officials said.
The Parks Department said the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) currently consists of 11 people — a captain, sergeant and nine officers — and will be fully staffed at 14 in the coming weeks. Parks is expecting to have one captain, two sergeants and 11 officers for Northern Manhattan by the end of April, a Parks Department spokeswoman said.
“We’ve increased the number of park enforcement officers in Northern Manhattan over the last five years,” Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro said at a Safety Town Hall meeting organized by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez Wednesday night.
“We added officers too with the opening of the Highbridge several years ago from what it was, and we’ve done this periodically when we can and when the budget allows. The budget is not infinite. There are limits and you have to live within those limits.”
Local residents have calling on the Parks Department to assign more police uptown after a series of robberies and rapes. More recently, four men attacked a man in the entrance of Fort Tryon Park in February and ran off with his camcorder, police said.
According to a Parks Department spokeswoman, the mayor allotted more than $5 million for parks enforcement police.
Castro said the PEP was created in 1981 to help address problems “that were relatively minor to most people, but important and things that the police — particularly in that time in the '80s — had a lot of other priors that maybe were more important than these issues that mattered to us.”
PEP officers have been most effective at enforcing dog owners cleaning up after their pets, preventing graffiti, managing special events and barbecues and “things of that nature, where things can get quickly out of hand” if not properly managed, Castro added.
But he said that people need to understand that despite their titles, PEP officers are not police.
“People sometimes get confused — and it’s very understandable — that the parks enforcement patrols are police. We’re not police. However, we do enforcement and it’s very important enforcement and education as well,” Castro said.
But locals had been hoping for additional officers for the park areas north of 125th Street — which has the same number of officers as Midtown Manhattan's parks, which cover the greenspace from 59th Street to 125th Street. There are 11 PEP officers assigned to Manhattan South, which covers parks located south of 59th Street, while Battery Park and Peter Minuit Park have 12 officers.
Riverside Park South has two officers, and there are three officers in the mounted unit, bring the total number of shielded PEP officers throughout Manhattan to 56, according to the Parks Department.