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Parks must hire more officers: Vallone

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (r.) speaks with Joe Puello, vice president of DC 37 Local 983, in Astoria Park. The councilman has called for more city Parks Enforcement Patrol officers in the borough. Photo courtesy Vallone
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) called the city Parks Department’s current policing situation “dangerous” last week, saying the department must hire more parks enforcement patrol officers instead of seasonal staff.

“There’s nobody in the parks,” Vallone said in an interview at the TimesLedger Newspapers’ offices.

This was the latest call by Vallone, chairman of the Council Public Safety Committee, for more policing. Vallone said last week he had learned from the DC 37 Local 983 union that only one PEP officer had been assigned to all of Queens’ parks at the present time.

Queens has more than 400 parks, playgrounds, triangles and malls.

The PEP enforces the Parks Department’s rules and regulations and the officers are assigned to not only the parks, but also beaches, marinas, recreation centers and other public spaces. The officers are distinguished by their all-green uniforms and patrolman shields.

PEP officers have the ability to issues summonses and make arrests as well as carry mace, batons and handcuffs.

First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh said in a statement that the borough had 12, not one PEP officer.

“The NYPD is the principal anti-crime force in the city, including in all parks,” Kavanagh said. “Our PEP consists of unarmed peace officers who help to uphold quality-of-life rules in the city’s parks. Summer is our busiest time of year, and Parks enforcement patrol personnel are present at Rockaway Beach, at every Queens pool and at any major events or concerts.”

Vallone insisted the Parks’ number of 12 officers was wrong. He said the seasonal staff is not sufficient to fill the gap left by the PEP officers assigned to the beaches and special events.

“What they’re flooding our parks with now are summer interns, welfare-to-work people,” Vallone said.

The councilman said the large number of seasonal staff could be a danger because they do not have the training or the tools of PEP officers.

Seasonal staff cannot write summonses or make arrests, but they provide extra security, advise pool-goers about swimming rules, find lost children and staff the front desk of the park’s recreational centers.

Vallone has made similar calls to the city to increase the NYPD’s officers, which he said have dropped from 41,000 in 2001 at the height of the Safe Streets-Safe City Program, which began adding more officers in 1991, down to fewer than 35,000 officers now.

He said the policing situation has been exacerbated lately in the wake of this summer’s mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed, and at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., where six people were killed.

Officers in New York City have been called away from their precincts to patrol theaters and temples throughout the city after the massacres.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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