At a time when four women have been raped in the past month in popular New York City parks, some are calling attention to the dramatically depleted ranks of Parks Enforcement Patrol.
In the 1990s, the city kept on staff 450 Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, according to Joseph Puleo, the vice president of DC 37 Local 983, the union that represents Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers.
By 2002, that number had been slashed to just 156. And today, there are only 91 city-funded officers who are available to patrol any and all parks.
There are however, an additional 92 privately-funded PEP officers who have fixed assignments at specific parks, such as The High Line and Hudson River parks, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman.
"This is an unacceptable number when you look at the amount of land our parks take up," East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said.
Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer said there is a clear need for more officers on the ground. PEP officers do not carry guns, but they do serve as a visible deterrent against crime.
"People see a uniform around, they think twice," Brewer told Metro.
Brewer represents the stretch of the Upper West Side where a 19-year-old was raped on Sept. 3, and one of her constituents includes a 73-year-old woman who was raped on Sept. 12 while birdwatching in Central Park.
After the most recent attack — where a woman was brutally raped Saturday morning in Hudson River Park — many are urging the city not to cut funds any further from the Parks patrol or the NYPD's budgets.
"A lot of city agencies do have hiring freezes," Mark-Viverito acknowledged. "But PEP should be an exempt line; we shouldn't see a dwindling in those numbers any further."
Police: Four rapes in month of September
1. On Monday, September 3rd at 2:15 a.m., a 19-year-old woman was raped behind a playground in Riverside Park
2. At 2 a.m. on Monday, September 10th, a 56-year-old woman was raped and thrown from the second story of Pier 15 on the East River Waterfront
3. On Wednesday, September 12th a 73-year-old woman was raped midday in Strawberry Fields in Central Park
4. On Saturday, September 22nd, around 5am, a 21-year-old was raped in Hudson River Park. After the attack, she sought help from two PEP officers who happened to be nearby, but those were the only two PEP officers covering the entire 150-acre park, according to Puleo.
Security for Hudson River Park is privately funded, he said.
"If she was in any other park, no one would have been there," he said, adding that city-funded PEP officers don't patrol at 5 a.m.
A return to 1980s crime levels?
Parks Patrol has regularly seen a 5 percent budget cut for the past several years, said Puleo.
This year alone, he reported a loss of almost $600,000 in funding to the PEP office.
He also pointed to a spate of playground shootings this summer, including one in the Bronx where a 4-year-old boy was killed, as evidence of a direct connection between the lowering of PEP numbers and crime skyrocketing in parks.
"The way it's heading now, we'll be back to 1980s epidemic [crime] rates," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked by reporters about the park crime spike yesterday morning, but he asserted that crimes rates are down overall.
"Some crimes are up a small amount," he conceded. "We've had a couple of rapes that got a lot of publicity that is ... just ... we've just got to stop that. There's nothing that — it's really hard to describe how despicable these kinds of crimes are. And we're doing everything we can, but we just can't have a cop in every single place."
Not all parks created equal
Privately-staffed parks can have an officer per acre, while entire boroughs have one officer for all parks in that borough, according to Puleo.
There are also grant- and privately-funded officers who are assigned to specific parks. Paleo estimates there are about 80 of these currently.
For example, Battery Park City spans 30 acres. There are 30 privately funded officers assigned to this park alone; one officer per acre.
Conversely, there was one PEP officer manning all of the parks in Queens this summer, while a majority of PEP officers were allocated to beaches and pools.