Following suit with citywide crime statistics, Queens parks recorded a 106.7 percent increase in overall crime between the months of January to March this year when compared to the same time frame in 2019.
The borough reported 31 total index crimes — murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft — in parks for the first quarter of 2020, more than double what was reported in the previous year.
The majority of reported incidents were robberies, which accounted for 41 percent of the crime. The 13 incidents accounted for a 550 percent jump when compared to the two robberies reported in the beginning of 2019.
Grand larceny was the second-most reported crime in Queens parks. The 11 incidents equated to a 57.1 percent jump from the previous year. Burglaries saw a 100 percent jump, but only account for one more incident than last year’s single burglary.
Four of the index crimes remained stagnant across the first quarter of 2019 and 2020 — reports for murder and auto thefts within Queens parks stayed at zero just as they had the year prior, but rapes and felony assaults each reached the same benchmark in 2020 as they had in 2019, one and four incidents, respectively.
The 31 incidents account for nearly 25 percent of all city park crime for the first three months of the year, making this the borough with the second-highest rates of crime in its parks, following Manhattan with 38 incidents and ahead of the Bronx with 30.
“This increase is alarming, but also indicative of the effects that bail reform has had on our city,” City Council and Parks Committee member Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) told the Chronicle in an email. “Crimes like robbery and burglary increased all across the five boroughs as more alleged criminals were given desk-appearance tickets, and parks were clearly no exception. This is even more proof that the city should invest more in Parks Enforcement Patrol.”
Parks Committee Chairperson Peter Koo (D-Flushing) agreed with Holden that PEP should be prioritized, noting that the NYPD’s workforce is often stretched too thin when required to surveil the green spaces that fall within each respective precinct’s jurisdiction.
“The recent uptick in crime in our parks is distressing, and it illustrates why we need to focus on the creation of a more consistent security presence,” Koo said in an email. “Unfortunately, police are too often made to fill these gaps in enforcement because the Parks Department is perpetually short-staffed and underfunded. As our parks have remained open throughout the pandemic as the only means of rest and relaxation for New Yorkers, I have joined Council Members Andrew Cohen, Barry Grodenchik and others to call on the mayor to prioritize the presence of Parks Enforcement Officers who are more readily able to maintain park security, enforce the rules and ensure our parks are safe and welcoming.”
The aforementioned Councilmembers, as well as 14 others, submitted a June 22 letter to Mayor de Blasio requesting increased funding for the PEP’s role in maintaining safety in parks, and as a way to demonstrate the city’s commitment to reduce funding for the NYPD and policing across the boroughs.
“In light of tensions between the public and police, prioritizing the presence of PEP officers in parks rather than NYPD dovetails nicely with the City’s de-escalation strategy,” the letter reads. “The Administration can tactically address the City’s needs by reallocating funding to PEP, an existing team that is well-suited to take on a larger role in managing increased activity in parks. The City currently relies on PEP officers to maintain security and enforce rules while also ensuring that parks remain safe and welcoming.”
The letter also notes that the City Council fought to fund an additional 80 PEP officers in order to reduce interactions between residents and the NYPD within the city’s green spaces. Because of the constraints on this year’s budget as a result of the pandemic and in response to constituents’ call to defund the NYPD, the Council urges the mayor to shift funds from the NYPD to PEP.
When continuing to compare crime in the first quarter of the two years, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which lies within the 110th Precinct, defended its title as the most dangerous city park. The nearly 898-acre space reported eight total incidents and accounted for all four grand larcenies, for both first quarters of 2019 and 2020. Rufus King Park in Jamaica, along with the Bronx’s Soundview Park, share the second-highest reports of crime, each with four incidents.
When asked about crime in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, an NYPD spokesperson noted that while crime there had remained the same, overall crime in the precinct had decreased by 14 percent as of June 21, comparing 642 incidents in 2019 to 561 in 2020.
“Members of the 110th Precinct are assigned to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the summer 24 hours a day to ensure the safety of all park-goers,” the spokesperson said. “Officers continue to work closely with the community to address any crime conditions.”
Despite the increase in incidents, Holden assured constituents that the green spaces should continue to be utilized, but said people should be alert for worst-case scenarios.
“I do believe that most parks are still safe spaces during the day, but park-goers should always be aware of their surroundings, especially if they are alone or venturing into parks after hours. Trouble makers have long been using the parks for illicit purposes at night.”