By Rebecca Fishbein
Though reported crime in the city hit an overall record low last year, city parks saw a worrisome spike in some felony crimes last year, prompting one Council Member to propose the city's budget include provisions for an increase in Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers.
According to this year's Fiscal 2017 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (which you can read here), the number of felony crimes committed against persons, like robbery, rape, and assault, in city parks went up 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, reflecting an uptick from 488 crimes to 612. That data excludes Central Park—there, overall felony crimes decreased 9.3 percent (from 85 felony crimes to 78) from 2015 to 2016, and crimes against persons decreased by 3 (from 33 to 30) according to NYPD data.
Still, in the first four months of 2017, there was an 11.8 percent increase in felony crimes against people in city parks (excluding Central Park) and a 45 percent increase in crimes against property.
Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the Council's Committee on Parks and Recreation, is concerned about the uptick. "It’s noteworthy that at a time when crime in the city is dropping overall—really an extraordinary achievement—we’re moving in the opposite direction in parks," Levine told Gothamist. "We’ve got to figure out why. And we’ve got to devote the resources to deal with it."
Levine has proposed installing an extra 200 Parks Enforcement personnel in hopes of combating crime, an increase that would cost the city about $8.5 million in this year's budget. "I don’t think we have a good answer as a city to why the trend is moving in the wrong direction in parks. I don’t think it’s enough to just say that it’s because park use is increasing," Levine said. "We’ve got to look at appropriate responses to make sure that people feel safe when they are in the sanctuary of the park."
The Parks Department argues city parks saw only a 5.65% increase in reported crimes overall in the last quarter of 2016, as compared with the last quarter of 2015. "We believe that the increase in crime at the end of 2016 compared to that time the previous year, was largely due to milder weather, as well as the growing popularity of our parks," Parks Department spokesperson Sam Biederman told Gothamist in a statement, adding, "We will continue to address issues of crime in parks by working closely with NYPD and expanding Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design techniques like Parks Without Borders," an initiative that aims to change park design to improve visibility so more people can see into them, discouraging bad behavior.
Park crime, which represents only a sliver of city crime overall, is still relatively low. Asked about Levine's proposal, Austin Finan, a City Hall spokesperson, issued a statement saying, "Crime across the city is at an all-time low, and crimes in parks remain rare. Just like they do on the streets, NYPD is focusing resources on trouble spots using a model of precision policing that has made our city the safest big city in America." Regarding Levine's call for additional budgeting funds, he added, "We will discuss this and other council priorities throughout the budget process."
Asked about Levine's proposal, an NYPD spokesperson said, "Crime in city parks comprises less than 1% of all reported crime in New York City. City parks represent 14% of New York City land mass, which makes them one of the safest places in the city and the country. Crime in New York City is on pace for record lows and New York continues to be the safest big city in America."
But Levine says any uptick is cause for at least some action.
"Our parks do remain overwhelmingly safe places, and if you look at the number of instances relative to the size of the city and the population of the city and the number of park users, people really should feel comfortable in their parks," Levine said. "But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take the uptick seriously, and that’s why we’ve called for more resources, and that we’re hoping to find answers for what the cause is."
He suggests parkgoers protect themselves against crime by not leaving property unattended, and by staying out of parks past their closing times.
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