Private Security Firm Hired to Replace Most Battery Park City 'PEP' Officers
Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and a sergeant outside Teardrop Park in Battery Park City. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib
UPDATED Oct. 28
The Battery Park City Authority is taking PEPs off their beat.
The Authority’s board voted Tuesday to hire a private security firm to replace what would appear to be most of the city’s Parks Enforcement Patrol’s green-uniformed officers, contracted through the city’s Parks Department, to patrol the neighborhood’s 38 acres of parks. Forty-five PEPs of various ranks are currently assigned to Battery Park City, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman.
The Parks Department and the authority are in “discussions” over the number of PEPs who will remain, the spokeswoman said.
The newly hired company, AlliedBarton Security Services, is a nationwide firm with 120 offices and more than 60,000 employees, according to its website. AlliedBarton’s security officers, in bright yellow and blue uniforms, will begin patrolling the parks on bike and foot in mid-November, said Caress Kennedy, a vice president of the firm.
The board voted to spend $2.1 million annually on the new services, which is $400,000 less than the authority now pays the city’s Parks Department for its officers, according to a person with knowledge of the PEP contract. But Benjamin Jones, an authority vice president, said the agency will get more for its money and the total paid for both private security and the remaining PEPs will be no more than the authority was paying for the full staff of PEP officers.
“We’re looking at a contract now under the $2.1 million that would still give us services that could be up to 30 percent more in terms of boots on the ground and visibility to the public,” Jones said, noting that the coverage will “go beyond just the green spaces in Battery Park City.”
Bryant Park is the only other city park that is largely staffed by private security. Unlike Battery Park City’s parks, it closes at night.
An authority spokeswoman did not respond when asked in an email why the agency is making the change. In the past, residents have complained about an absence of PEP officers on patrol as well as officers who congregate and seem inattentive. But Anthony Notaro, chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee, said his view of their performance lately is a good one, though he has “more questions than answers” about the wisdom of the move.
“The relationship has been up and down but I would say on balance it’s been positive,” said Notaro, who was not aware of the decision until contacted by the Trib.
“They’ve made a real concerted effort over probably the last 18 months,” Notaro added. “They’ve come to every one of our committee meetings, they even come to my First Precinct Community Council meetings and so they’ve made an attempt to have more community outreach, which may be more than BPCA has done in this regard.”
Unlike the PEPs, private security officers cannot write parking tickets or issue summonses for quality-of-life infractions such as alcohol consumption in the parks, off-leash dogs, or public disturbances. PEP officers, though not armed with guns, are equipped with batons, pepper spray and handcuffs, none of which will be carried by the new security officers, according to Kennedy.
“It raises a lot of concerns about the level of safety and also the public not being informed about the differences” between the two types of security, said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit group that supports parks and open spaces.
Joe Puleo, president of Local 983 of District Council 37, the PEP’s local, called the decision a mistake. “Battery Park City has been relying on the PEPs practically since its inception,” he said. “You have to make compromises and it will probably affect the quality of life there.
UPDATE: In an interview on Wednesday, Oct. 28, Puleo said his union is considering legal action to prevent the hiring of the non-union private security officers and said he questions the Parks Department’s contention (see below) that all dismissed officers will be placed in other positions. “The whole thing really smells bad,” he said. “I’m going to try to get an injunction on this. I’m talking to our lawyers.”
The authority, which refers to the new officers as “ambassadors,” did not respond to the Trib when asked in an email how it plans to handle infractions that call for officers with enforcement powers. In a statement, it said the officers “will have hand-held devices as part of their equipment that will be able to track complaints and incidents electronically with geocoding for even greater location accuracy.” The tracking, it said, “will allow for rapid electronic notification of any issues to the Authority, the Parks Conservancy and the NYPD when necessary.”
“Courteous interactions” with the public will be of “utmost importance to the Authority,” the statement said.
The authority spokeswoman declined to say how training, salary and benefits of AlliedBarton Security Services compares with those of the city’s PEP officers. According to the website Glassdoor.com, which tracks company salaries and benefits, the guards nationally are paid an average of $12 an hour, which ranks 23 percent below the national average for that job. PEP officers make $37,907 a year, according to the Parks Department, an average of about $18.20 per hour.
In September, a PEP captain and sergeant were warmly received by Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee where they gave an incidents report for July and August.
According to the report, officers issued 324 parking tickets as well as 12 summonses to appear before the city’s Environmental Control Board for alleged quality-of-life offenses such as trespassing and illegal alcohol consumption. They arrested one person for public urination and coaxed down a river “jumper” who had been arguing with her boyfriend (but then was arrested after she “scuffled” with the boyfriend and spit on the captain.) A PEP officer found a child on South End Avenue whose father had reported him missing from Rockefeller Park.
The sergeant and captain received applause and thanks from the committee at the conclusion of their report.
No PEP officers will be laid off but will be reassigned to vacancies in other parks, according to the Parks Department.