On March 5, Parks Department Commissioner Veronica White and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski announced the city would hire 81 new park enforcement patrol officers citywide.
“You can have all the rules in the world but unless they are enforced they become irrelevant,” Community Board 1 Parks Chairman Richard Khuzami said.
Currently there are 86 PEP officers citywide. Bloomberg’s fiscal year 2014 budget includes the additional PEP officers as well as 207 more city parks workers; 96 new maintenance and trades workers, technicians and analysts to maintain play equipment, boilers, fences and lighting systems; and 30 more climbers and pruners, according to Parks spokesman Phil Abramson.
“Since the beginning of the Bloomberg administration, the city has committed almost $4 billion to [parks],” Abramson said. “As a result of the fiscal crisis, over the past several years Parks’ workforce has not kept pace with its growing capital infrastructure.”
The 2014 budget addresses the gap.
Where the officers will go has not been decided, but advocates and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) are campaigning for equal distribution.
Historically Queens’ parks have been understaffed. Some parks, such as Central Park, hired private security, while Queens parks have the bare minimum,Vallone said. This past summer one PEP officer was assigned to patrol Queens parks, according to Vallone, while the rest were sent to beaches and pools.
The announcement of more PEP officers, given at a recent Astoria Civic Association meeting, comes on the heels of an 8 percent increase in park crimes. Citywide crime has risen 4 percent.
“Crime is rising in our parks, and a handful of officers to keep an entire borough of parkland safe just won’t cut it,” Vallone said. “I’m glad the city has finally decided to hire more PEP officers, but we have to make sure Queens gets enough of them to keep people safe.”