Thursday, November 17, 2011

Body found in Van Cortlandt Park Lake emphasizes need for more park patrol

Another story from this week's Riverdale Review and Bronx Press.

By Brendan McHugh 

A body was found Monday in the lake.
A body was found in Van Cortlandt Park Lake Monday afternoon, highlighting a lack of patrol in the city’s parks.

Anthony McGurran, 77, was missing from his Bailey Avenue home since Friday. Police say the investigating is ongoing and that the cause of death is not yet known. There were no immediate signs of foul play.

The news of the tragic death, whatever the cause may be, has underlined a problem with parks and crime.

“The Parks Department is responsible for 14 percent of the city’s land and it’s completely unacceptable that the city is not tracking and reporting crime,” said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Advocates, a parks watchdog group.

Jump below for the full story.
The city staffs Parks Enforcement Patrol officers throughout the city’s parks, but earlier this year it was reported that only eight PEP officers tend to the Bronx’s 6,000 acres of parkland. The Bronx, once nicknamed the Borough of Parks, has two of the four biggest parks in the city. Manhattan has 34 publicly funded PEP officers.

“There’s a lack of accountability when it comes to looking at what’s going on in our parks system,” Croft said. “Much greater resources need to be allocated. The NYPD and Parks Department need to be forced to comply with the law.”

The Parks Department, like many of the city agencies, is struggling to maintain services as budgets and personnel continue to be cut.

Croft held a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the steps of City Hall to demand the City comply with park crime reporting law and reschedule the City Council's oversight hearing examining Public Safety in City Parks. 

“Park crime reporting is vital to not only preventing crime but knowing where to allocate proper resources,” he said. “The public has a right to know if their parks are safe.” 

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez had planned to attend the conference, but he was arrested with many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters early Tuesday morning when the NYPD forced them out of Zuccotti Park. 

The NYPD pulled out of the hearing scheduled for Nov. 15, saying they could not prepare for the hearing due to other commitments including Occupy Wall Street, according to an NYPD spokesman. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said they do not have the necessary resources or technology to comply with law according to documents obtained by NYC Park Advocates. 

“We know that there is such a lack of park enforcement, especially in the Bronx,” Croft said. “A lot of them are in the so called contract parks—the public-private partnerships.”

Van Cortlandt Park is a public-private partnership, with the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy charged with helping to run the park. The partnership with the city allows private organizations to raise money that goes directly to the park.

Anthony Perez Cassino, the Conservancy’s chair, did not reply to a request for comment asking if they have funded any PEP officers, though a copy of their projected financial statement for the fiscal year does not have any expenses listed for officers.

Nine parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn supply an additional 78 privately funded PEP officers. No PEP officers are privately funded in the Bronx.

PEP officers in the Bronx have said in the past that they cover the entire borough, so if they’re in one corner of the Bronx and something happens on the other side, they have to travel the distance.  

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