A Parks Department employee was attacked with a metal chair in Brownsville this past Saturday. The 38-year-old woman was struck while preparing to clear off the sidewalk with a leaf blower at Betsy Head Park. She says the assault was unprovoked, according to the NYPD. Police are currently searching for the attacker.
So how protected are park workers? District Council 37 (DC 37), the city’s largest public employee union, says it’s an essential matter.
“We take workplace violence and worker safety very seriously,” said Thea Setterbo, DC 37’s director of communications. “It’s an ongoing process to educate our members on their rights and ensure the Parks Department is upholding their obligation to keep our workers safe in the course of performing their jobs.”
Currently, park workers are encouraged to call their supervisors or 911 when they feel unsafe. They’re told to remove themselves from any situation where there’s a source of aggression. As of now, there are no specific, gendered protections for women workers.
The attack comes at a time where parks are experiencing their “peak season.” Around half of the Parks Department maintenance staff is seasonal during the summer. So communication is key to ensure such assaults remain aberrations.
“The work that we do in operations, whether it’s cleaning a playground or cleaning a bathroom, or grooming a ball field or mowing the grass, that’s all work we can come back to after the situation resolves itself,” said Parks Department Deputy Commissioner Mark Focht. “There’s nothing we need to do in the moment that we can’t come back to, so the paramount issue is the staff removing themselves from the situation.”
Attacks on park workers this summer are sparse but notable. In June, a Riverside Park worker was punched in the face. In a turn (or spin?) of events, the employee defended himself with a series of roundhouse kicks, earning himself 15 minutes of viral fame. Last month, a Washington Square Park supervisor was beaten during a confrontation.
As for Saturday’s victim, she’s doing okay. At least physically. She was released from the hospital the same day according to the Park’s Department and is experiencing minor pain in the head and back according to police. Counseling is available should she need it, says Focht.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w