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Parks officers to city: We need guns

Stephon Johnson | 10/10/2013, 4:14 p.m.
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Coming off of a recent stabbing spree by a man in Riverside Park, Parks Enforcement officers have claimed enough is enough and now want the right to bear arms.

The AmNews spoke with Local 983 President Joe Puleo, whose union is making the push to the Parks Department to give them permission to carry weapons.

In our city parks, crime is on the increase,” said Puleo. “It’s down in the city general, but on the rise in our public parks, and the types of crimes that are increasing are violent crimes. Our concern is that our officers are out there to protect to public and we are not properly equipped.” Parks Enforcement officers wear bulletproof vests, carry handcuffs and are armed with batons, but Puleo said that isn’t enough.

Although 81 new officers were hired this summer (doubling the number of officers overall), with around 2,800 acres of parkland in the five boroughs, Puleo said that officers not only need to be able to carry guns, the number of patrolling officers needs to increase overall.

There’s been a lot of shootings on playgrounds lately,” stated Puleo. “We’d like to pass legislation that would make it mandatory for someone who committed this type of crime to have a mandated prison sentence, but our primary focus is to get the parks commissioner (Veronica White)—even though we know she’s gonna say no—to sign off on this request, and it can be done tomorrow. Why can’t they get us the full protection package?”

A Parks spokesman told the New York Post that the NYPD is “the city’s primary crime-fighting agency.”

Parks officers are responsible for patrolling not only public parks, but public beaches, pools and recreation centers. Puleo discussed with the AmNews how Battery Park City and the area around the High Line in Manhattan fund their own officers. According to him, there are 35 officers who patrol the Battery Park City area, which is about one per acre. Many of these are a result of private-public partnerships, but Puleo is worried about the protection of the rest of New Yorkers.

“What about the other people who pay taxes?” asked Puleo. “Where’s the money going?”

According to a report by New York City Park Advocates, this summer, the top five most dangerous parks for violent crime were Central Park and Riverside Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Flushing Meadows Park in Queens and Crotona Park in the Bronx. In late August, New York City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. reported that between January and June of 2013, violent crime in city parks had jumped 26.5 percent when compared to the same stretch in 2012. However, the city is quick to point out that their data demonstrates parks overall are 80 percent safer than they were 20 years ago.

Puleo recalled a meeting with the hierarchy at the Parks Department where they expressed fear at having people with guns regularly patrolling city parks, with the fear that civilians won’t consider it a great environment for leisure. But Puleo believes there’s another reason why the Parks Department—and the city in general—don’t want to supply them with guns.

“I think the reality is that they would rather see us shot because of liability issues rather than have the misfortune of someone filing a lawsuit against us,” said Puleo. “Their answer is that they would appear threatening to the public. My response is that when you see a police officer, do you feel threatened?”