June 29, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Several Queens lawmakers have called on the mayor to redistribute NYPD funds into the Parks Department in order to increase the role of Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers at city parks.
The legislators want the NYPD – whose relationship with the public has been strained in recent weeks – to transfer some of its park responsibilities over to PEP officers. The transfer of responsibility would still ensure the safety of visitors at city parks.
They said the move would also demonstrate the city’s commitment to reduce funding for the NYPD.
The lawmakers said that an unprecedented number of residents are visiting parks during the city’s re-opening phase due to a lack of recreation options.
This is leading to more tensions between police and civilian population at city parks, they said.
PEP officers currently enforce rules and maintain security for the Parks Department. They have been called upon to disperse large crowds and enforce social distancing at parks during the height of COVID-19. However, they have limited powers when it comes to enforcing the law.
The elected officials, in a joint letter sent to the mayor on June 22, asked for funding to be increased for PEP officers in the upcoming budget. This would help expand their roles at parks, they said.
They did not specify how much money they were looking to invest in the agency.
The letter was signed by Queens Council Members Peter Koo, Donovan Richards, Robert Holden, Barry Grodenchik, Adrienne Adams, Paul Vallone, and 11 other New York City Council members.
“In light of tensions between the public and police, prioritizing the presence of PEP officers in parks rather than the NYPD dovetails nicely with the city’s de-escalation policy,” they wrote.
“The administration can tactically address the city’s needs by reallocating funding to PEP,” the letter reads.
The current team of PEP officers is well-equipped to take on a larger role in managing the parks, they wrote.
They called on the mayor to maintain PEP staffing levels at parks. This would include retaining 80 PEP officers that were hired by the city last year after a push by the city council.
“The city made a significant investment to recruit and train these PEP professionals in FY ’20; retaining them in FY ‘21 will enable PEP to play a vital role in communities going forward,” the letter reads.
The lawmakers said that parks are a primary public resource and have become especially important during COVID-19.
“Parks serve as our backyards, picnic areas, fitness spaces, hiking trails, wellness centers and public spaces across the boroughs,” they wrote.
“Having the presence of PEP officers will help to ensure that visitors feel safe.”