At a March 3 City Council hearing about the mayor’s planned increase of 67 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers for the fiscal year 2017 budget, Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver spoke about the planned allocation of officers for Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“We have six dedicated to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park; there will be an addition of eight, which will make 14,” he said.
According to a Parks Department spokesman, the park has 12 PEP officers reporting out of it, six of whom are dedicated to patrolling the park.
In addition, a department spokeswoman said, there are four city seasonal aid officers and three urban park rangers assigned to the aquatic center in the park, in addition to five job training participants who are assigned to the Al Oerter Recreation Center.
Behind only Central Park, which has a police precinct dedicated to it, FMCP has the second-highest crime rate out of any park in New York City.
But according to a supervisory officer, the numbers provided by the department are inaccurate.
According to the source, who preferred to speak on the basis of anonymity, there are two CSA officers assigned to the aquatic center and one assigned to the Al Oerter Recreational Center, three UPRs assigned to the aquatic center and three PEPs that report out of the park but don’t patrol it. (Though four normally report there but work elsewhere, the officer said, one has recently been temporarily reassigned to Rockaway Beach.) He also did not challenge the number of JTPs, as he “does not deal with them.”
However, he said that there are no officers whose patrol is focused solely on Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a whole, rather than specific sites inside of it.
“There aren’t any dedicated to the park,” the supervisor said, clarifying that he meant officers dedicated to the park as a whole, rather than the aquatic center or the Al Oerter Recreation Center. “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” he added, referring to the information given to the public by the park agency.
“They’re misrepresenting it,” Parks Enforcement Union Local 983 President Joe Puleo said, referring to the staffing levels claimed by the Parks Department. Elected officials, he added, may be getting the wrong impression of the actual situation.
NYC Park Advocates President Geoffrey Croft put it even more bluntly.
“That’s a bold-faced lie,” Croft said, referring to Silver’s City Council testimony about the park and its officer staffing.
Despite having more parkland than any other borough, Queens has the smallest number of PEP officers, a fact that would not change even with the mayor’s planned increase, though it possibly could if the City Council gets the 80 officers above the mayor’s proposal it is requesting, and a large portion of them are allocated to Queens.
When asked for a response to the officer’s claims about the statistics, the Parks Department responded with the numbers that it claims are the staffing levels for the park.
“Frequently, it’s the case when you have an organization that is underresourced, someone in that supervisory chain is gonna play around with the numbers because the reality would be so unacceptable to elected officials and the public,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said. The councilman, whose district covers a large portion of the park, has requested more patrol officers for Flushing Meadows Corona Park and plans to do so again.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the city is playing with the numbers to try to show more patrol activity at Flushing Meadows park than there actually is,” said Lancman, who clarified that he had no “direct knowledge” of the park’s staffing levels. “When you’re in the park as I frequently am you rarely see a park enforcement officer.”
There may also be a political component to giving Queens a much smaller amount of officers compared to Manhattan, Brooklyn and the other boroughs, the councilman added.
“You have a mayor who is very political and he makes a lot of his governmental decisions based on the politics,” Lancman said, adding that a recent poll indicated that Mayor de Blasio is highly unpopular in Queens. “Compared to the resources devoted to the other parks, particularly in Manhattan, we are woefully understaffed.”