Parks Enforcement Patrol officers say job-training participants are putting them at risk

Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, who monitor parks, beaches and recreational spaces across the five boroughs, charge the city is cutting corners and putting them at risk.

They claim the Parks Department has been assigning job-training participants to work alongside PEP officers, who are full-time peace officers.

It’s a cheaper way to fill out the thinning ranks of PEP officers, they complain. These trainees, part of the welfare-to-work program, are easier on the payroll than full-time PEP officers.

But they also lack the training and peace-officer status of PEP officers.

“We’re hearing that the JTPs [job-training participants] are now riding with PEP officers and answering calls with them,” said Joseph Puleo, vice president of Local 983 of District Council 37.

“Traditionally, they were in recreation centers checking identification or doing file work,” said Puleo. “They have very limited training. This is dangerous for PEP officers, the JTPs and the public.”

The union recently informed the Parks Department that it is mulling legal action, which could include a grievance or even a lawsuit.

“We’d like to see this cease and desist,” said Puleo. “We would also like Parks to change their uniform. It closely resembles ours, and it can confuse the public.”

In a statement, Parks pointed out that the New York City Police Department – not its PEP officers – is the primary anti-crime force in parks.

“They [JTPs] carry portable radios and act as the eyes and ears of NYPD and PEP,” the statement read. “They don’t write summonses or make arrests. They do provide extra security at beaches and pools. … They also support security with crowd control at parks special events, do mobile patrols of parks, answer questions from the public and enforce our regulations through education.”

But Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, a frequent critic of the Parks Department, said PEP officers “are the city’s only uniformed police personnel specifically dedicated to our parks. The city is putting the public and its employees in harm’s way by using JTPs.”

NY DAILY NEWS (march 22, 2011)

Park peppered with PEP questions

THis was an article written by Lincoln Andeson in October 2005!! It seems the NYC PEP Patrol unit has a history of abuse to residents of NYC. THe real kicker is……..THe Parks Advocate or Supervisor always states the same load of bullshit. Local Community Board #2 had to deal with years of complaints towards the PEP ENFORCEMENT.

Whether Park Enforcement Patrol officers in Hudson River Park are providing too much enforcement — or too little — was a hot topic of debate at two recent meetings. Known as PEP’s for short, the green-uniform-wearing officers have police powers, but don’t carry handguns. Although the Hudson River Park is administered by a state-city authority, the Hudson River Park Trust, the Trust has contracted with the city Parks Department for the PEP’s to patrol the 5-mile-long waterfront park along the Hudson River.

The summer saw a slew of complaints about PEP overzealousness. Gays were outraged when officers, deeming the behavior lewd, intervened to stop a same-sex couple from fondling each other’s nipples on a Village pier, while another gay couple were wrongly ticketed for standing under a “No Standing” sign that applied to cars not people. (The ticket was subsequently dismissed.) Dog walkers claim PEP’s watch them like hawks, and that if their dogs step on a blade of grass even for a second, the PEP’s chew them out or ticket them. (Over the years, dog walkers have made similar complaints about PEP officers in Battery Park City).

Local Democratic politicians and politicos were incensed after Bill Murawski, a third party candidate running for City Council in Chelsea and Clinton, was forced by the Trust to get a permit so he and his campaign workers could collect petition signatures in the park to put him on the ballot — even though permits are not required to collect signatures in public places. The PEP officers apparently did not know this, though, and the permit was issued to make things clear for them.

At the Trust’s board of directors meeting two weeks ago, Julie Nadel, a board member, raised the issue of PEP’s being too aggressive in their enforcement. She noted she had received a letter from a Village woman who said that after one of her two pugs had strayed onto a park lawn while she was busy brushing the other one, two PEP’s descended upon her. The letter writer, Paula DiDonato, said she had to wait 25 minutes while one of the officers filled out the summons and that the officer was “rude and abusive.” Meanwhile, another PEP on a Segway scooter, a car full of PEP’s and finally a police cruiser also converged around her.

“Far too often this park feels like a walk through Red Square and I’m tired of it,” DiDonato wrote in the letter.

Nadel also gave Downtown Express a copy of a Sept. 27 letter from Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, apologizing to five local West Side officials — Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried and City Councilmember Christine Quinn — who wrote Fishman on Sept. 23 regarding the Murawski permit incident.

“Please let me apologize for the error that occurred in our PEP officer’s enforcement of the park rules and regulations,” Fishman wrote back to them. “I fully agree that the permit need not have been issued to clarify the situation that occurred regarding the petitioning.” Fishman said the permit had been issued since there are personnel and shift changes in the summer, and it would avoid further problems in case new inexperienced officers didn’t know petitioning is allowed.

Fishman said the Trust plans to do supplemental training for PEP’s assigned to Hudson River Park.

In another incident perhaps calling into question the amount of training PEP officers receive, a Downtown Express photographer shooting photos for this article was told by an officer that she could not take a photo of her, even though they were in a public park.

Saying she was “troubled” by the incidents, Nadel asked, “Who is supervising these PEP officers and who is training them? From my view, there are too many park officers policing the park. It seems that with any minor infraction, they’re on you.”

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who are both on the Trust’s board, said the usual complaint in other parks is about apathetic or nonexistent park police and that local residents should feel grateful the park is so well covered.

Yet, Benepe said he was aware of the complaints. He said the PEP officers in some cases are now wearing pocket tape recorders to defend themselves from complaints of abuse or wrongful summonsing.

“Hudson River Park is a laboratory,” Benepe said. “We can always do more training.” He also said PEP officers have a high degree of turnover with a fair number of them becoming police officers.

Trip Dorkey, the Trust’s chairperson, added, “I think we do want to be a user-friendly place — but it’s a very small space. We have a lot of different user groups. Some of the things that came through in the [DiDonato] letter are that people are not being respected — that’s training.”

Stern noted that “it goes both ways,” pointing out that some park users might look down on the PEP’s as their “social inferiors” and act disrespectfully toward them, which would not help foster good relations.

Nadel suggested that the Trust set up a committee to study the issue of PEP’s and the park, and she and Benepe both volunteered to be on it.

Things were a bit more heated at the Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting last Thursday, as some Village residents and a group of young gay, lesbian and transgender activists clashed over the park’s 1 a.m. curfew and some residents suggested PEP officers should start carrying guns to keep unruly youths in line.

Melissa Sklarz, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Committee, said the new park has gotten off to “a bumpy start” with the gay community. “Whenever there seems to be a case of overenforcement by the PEP’s it seems to involve the L.G.B.T. community,” she said. “We would like the PEP’s to learn more about the L.G.B.T. community.”

The Greenwich Village segment of the park was opened in the summer of 2003 and the Christopher St. Pier is a favorite stomping grounds for L.G.B.T. youth. Residents say gay youth flood Christopher St. after the park closes, causing a quality of life problem.

David Tubo, who works at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said he feels the gay youth are increasingly being made to feel unwelcome, in part by the PEP’s.

“Feeling pushed out from the pier, from Christopher St., from the Village — from little comments to actual summonses on the pier,” he said. “It’s starting to feel not like a home anymore.”

However, Elaine Goldman, head of the Christopher St. Block Association, and David Poster of the Christopher St. Patrol — the latter who called for a 10 p.m. curfew on the pier — said the park officers are too lenient on youth who are acting wildly.

“They’re not efficient,” Goldman said. “They’re decision-making is very poor.” Goldman said residents would like to see state police replace the PEP’s in the park. t>

Fishman said the PEP’s were hired on a three-year contract and that the contract expires this year. Yet, Fishman said, there are reasons why the Trust did not choose to have state police in the park, including that they don’t know the city rules on parks and they carry guns.

“State parks police carry firearms — and we were not interested in an armed police force,” she said.

But Goldman retorted, “Sometimes there might be an incident where a firearm might be needed to protect someone.”

PEP HARASSED WOMAN in Washington Sq Park

As she does most days, on the afternoon of March 8 Pat McKee took her dog to the Washington Square Park large dog run, of which she is the manager. It was one of the first warm days of the year, but when she tried to fill the dog’s bowl up with water, she found the water hose was turned off. So McKee walked into the women’s restroom to fill the bowl up in the sink. 

According to McKee, within seconds of her entering the bathroom, two Park Enforcement Patrol officers, Martin Hightower and William White, followed her in and yelled, “What’s going on in here?” The only two people in the restroom were McKee and a woman in a stall. The officers told McKee she could not rinse a dog’s water bowl in the bathroom sink, and she and the officers argued until finally the woman in the stall piped up, “What are men doing in this bathroom? I would like privacy.” The officers left. 

This incident is one example of many altercations with the two PEP officers, particularly Officer Hightower, reported by visitors to Washington Square Park. According to Ashe Reardon, a Parks Department spokesperson, PEP officers are responsible for enforcing quality of life measures in parks, which can include issuing summonses to people violating park curfews, littering, walking their dogs off leash and riding bikes — or as Reardon explained, targeting “general issues to improve the experience of [park] visitors.” 

As for McKee’s case, Reardon confirmed that there is nothing in the law that prohibits using a restroom sink to fill a dog bowl. However, other park visitors have complained that even in cases when the officers apply the law correctly, they have been overzealous and abusive.

Marjorie Reitman, a regular at the dog run, recounted an incident she witnessed when a longtime acquaintance of hers was walking her dog in the park in the snow. The dog began urinating in the snow, and Officer Hightower approached the woman, saying that he was going to write her a summons for allowing her dog to urinate on the grass that was apparently beneath the snow, and asked her for identification. The woman said she did not have identification with her, since she had just left her apartment to pick up her mail and walk her dog. Reitman says that when the woman held up her mail to show Hightower, he grabbed it out of her hand and asked her to follow him to the police surveillance-camera trailer on Washington Square South. There, he wrote her a summons. 

Later that day, Reitman and McKee spoke to the officers’ superior, Sergeant Addison. Although Addison was standoffish and officious at first, he reached a conciliatory tone with the women, explaining that the officers were new recruits and did not know that they were supposed to cut park users a little slack. He said he would talk to them. The two officers were absent from the park last week, and although Parks spokesperson Reardon said the department is discussing specific incidents with the officers, Parks would not confirm whether the two were receiving additional sensitivity training or being reprimanded. Reardon emphasized that Parks is “reviewing the deployment of these two PEP officers to ensure that incidents like these do not occur in the future.”

Apart from dog owners, the PEP officers have been targeting bike riders as well as artists and musicians. A few weeks ago, a juggler was written a summons and kicked out of the park for performing without a permit and has not been back to the park since. Reardon explained that the logic behind requiring performers to have permits is that they attract crowds and that space in parks must be managed properly. 

But Reitman sees it as a senseless crackdown. 

“They’re trying to keep people from doing what Washington Square Park is known for — you know, the creative types,” she says. “They’re just taking away the whole personality of the park and they’re being very nasty about it.” 

At issue is the question of the city’s priorities in deploying PEP officers who are doing aggressive enforcement in a park where bathrooms are dirty and where drug dealers freely operate. The women’s restroom was strewn with toilet paper on Tuesday, toilets were dirty and every day men sit between the two dog runs whispering furtively to passersby, “Buds? You smoke?” 

While PEP officers are not park maintenance or the police, daily park users like McKee have inevitably found themselves asking the question, “Why is a person like me being targeted, harassed and made to feel a criminal when there is real crime going on in this park?”

NYC MAYOR BLOOMBERG signs bill banning smoking in PARKS and BEACHES

What is wrong with this Mayor? Has he become like all the other politicians using laws as a bottom line to create funds.  This one goes too far.   Smoking from a Native American point of view is considered Visible Prayer.  Prayer is protected under our Constitution.  As a former smoker, I know that the contemplative nature of smoking was meditational.  Tobacco itself is considered sacred.  It is said to be balanced feminine and masculine.  It is considered the drug of friendship.  It has medicinal properties and is used in crop protection.  Like all issues a government authority has grabbed control of another one of our freedoms.