Crime in city parks is on the rise. According to data released in August by the NYPD, crime in the 31 largest parks increased 26.5% from 2012 through the first eight months of 2013. And nearly 50% of those crimes occurred in just two parks, Central Park and Flushing Meadows. But those alarming numbers aren't the full picture, because only a handful of parks are actually designated as parks when the NYPD compiles statistics.
A City Council hearing today focused on a bill that would require the NYPD to submit crime reports to the Council on all City parks and playgrounds greater than one acre in size. This would increase the number of parks where crime data is reported from 31 to a whopping 870.
Seven years ago, Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) sponsored a bill requiring the NYPD to begin the process of reporting felony crime data for parks. The bill passed, but the NYPD still only reports crime data for the 31 largest parks in the City. Vallone and other park advocates contend that the NYPD is using a loophole to improve crime stats, with the consequence that smaller parks get less police protection.
But a common sentiment amongst those who testified at today's hearing was that Vallone's bill doesn't go far enough, since thousands of park areas that are smaller than an acre would not see data reported. The Park Enforcement Patrol, which employs only 160 officers to monitor all of the City's parks, hopes that more data will demonstrate that the understaffed PEP needs more officers to patrol parks and keep people safe.
"It's a joke," NYC Park Advocates President Geoffrey Croft told us in an email. "We are against it, as is the Union that represents park officers because, among other reasons, the bill omits reporting for the vast majority of playgrounds, which are under one acre, and does not cover recreational facilities, etc. and it gives (the NYPD) more time to comply, which by law they should already have by 2008!"
Vallone signaled that there could be more changes to the bill before it's taken to the City Council for a vote, and said he would "consider all ideas" that were proposed at the meeting. But Vallone also cautioned that the City Council may not pass a more inclusive measure, and that any changes must include a specific definition of what exactly is a park.
"Every bill is a subject of compromise, and you can't always pass the perfect bill. We can make changes, but we also can't allow some five-by-five foot area to be called a park either. We have to be clear," Vallone said. "But I do know that in its current form the bill would pass the Council."
The law would also be one of Vallone's last marks on the City Council, since he will be term-limited out of office at the end of the year, and he is committed to its passage before the end of December. "We have to get this done, since the NYPD has shown that they don't want to do so," Vallone added.
Vallone, who ran for Queens Borough President this year, but lost after an ugly campaign to eventual winner Melinda Katz in the Democratic primary, has been a large supporter of the NYPD in the past, receiving endorsements from every major police union and avidly supporting the City's stop-and-frisk policies.