Worries and Anger Over Park Security Changes in Battery Park City

Over 24 hours, 21"shielded" Parks Enforcement Patrol officers with enforcement powers, like this officer, and three "non-shielded" (no enforcement powers) patrol the parks in Battery Park City, according to the Parks Department. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 04, 2015

Less than a week after Battery Park City residents learned that a private security firm was hired to replace most of the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers who police their neighborhoods 36 acres of parks, residents voiced deep concerns about the move at a three-hour meeting of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee on Monday.

But more than the decision itself, authorized at a Battery Park City Authority Board meeting on Oct. 29, they blasted the authority for what they see as “complete disregard for the community’s input,” as committee Chair Anthony Notaro put it. The committee planned to draft a resolution that, in part, would take the authority to task for leaving the community board out of the decision-making process.

“No one knows what their motivation is or what led them to believe that changes needed to be made,” Notaro said. “And that needs to be explored before any contract or any change is made.

The authoritys action comes on top of community anger over some other recent BPCA decisions, including control of North Cove Marina, permitting of the ball fields, and the forcing out of BPC Parks Conservancy executive director Tessa Huxley,

The authority’s board voted to hire AlliedBarton Security Services for  $2.1 million annually, which is $400,000 less than the $2.5 million the authority now pays the city’s Parks Department for its PEP officers. The planned major reduction in PEP staffing has since become the subject of negotiations with the Parks Department, apparently putting authority representatives at a loss to say how many PEPs will be working in concert with AlliedBarton officers, who the company refers to as “safety ambassadors.”

Unlike the PEPs, private security officers do not have enforcement powers and 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.  

In their presentation to the committee, three AlliedBarton executives described their plan to patrol the parks with a 24-hour, 57-person contingent of uniformed officers on foot and bike that they said will be a deterrent to misconduct and criminal behavior. (Twenty-six PEPs are now assigned there daily.)

The goal of hiring a private firm, the authority has said, is to have “30 percent more boots on the ground.”

“Most people will not break rules or think about committing a crime if they see a security presence,” said John McCardle, an AlliedBarton district manager who will be in charge of the Battery Park City staff.

“Altogether you’re going to have the best security program you can ever imagine,” company executive Kevin Francis insisted.

Robin Forst, the authority’s vice president for external relations, told the standing-room only crowd that the “vast increase” of residents, workers and tourists in Battery Park City “made us realize that we wanted to have a more visible presence of security in our community.”

The authority has yet to say why there had been a planned reduction in PEP staff, which frustrated the community board committee. Its resolution, they said, would demand an answer to why the change was made and what studies were conducted to arrive at their decision.

Martha Gallo, an authority board member and the board’s only Battery Park City resident, acknowledged that “the process, when it comes to structured community input, needs improvement.” She announced that on Dec. 16, Battery Park City officials will hold the first of a series of quarterly community meetings.

“I think we owe it to the community to talk about the things that we are working on and the things we plan to work on,” she said.

As for the security contract, which is yet to be signed, “Given all I’ve heard tonight,” she said, “I’m not sure we’re ready to sign it in the next couple of weeks.” AlliedBarton had been expecting to begin patrolling in mid-November, a company representative said following the authority board meeting.  

Gallo, however, defended the authority’s actions. “I was happy that we did this work and we learned a lot,” she said. “You’re hearing from these [AlliedBarton] folks about some enhanced services that we can bring into the neighborhood and compliment with PEP.”

Gallo hinted that there had been dissatisfaction with the PEPs who, it was learned at the meeting, the authority had put on a month-to-month contract in March.

“I don’t want to get into the pluses and minuses of the PEP relationship here, I don’t think it’s appropriate and I don’t think it would be well received,” Gallo said, noting that “things with PEP are on an up note. That has not always been the case. We all know that.”

There is a history of community complaints about an absence of PEPs on patrol and PEPs congregating in groups. But Notaro said that their performance has improved in the past 18 months, when PEP officers began coming to the committee meetings and reporting on recent incidents.

“I will tell you that before they did that there was a rift between the community and PEP and we went about trying to correct that,” Notaro said. “They’ve done a nice job of working with us and figuring that out.”

Despite anger over the authority’s handling of security changes in the parks, several residents said they liked some of AlliedBarton’s innovative methods. Among them is the use of GPS tracking devices by officers that allow them to record everything they do. “That way we can actually quantify what’s going on and where,” AlliedBarton’s Kevin Francis said, “and present to you and the authority where we would suggest you deploy your resources.” The devices would also allow supervisors to deploy the closest officer in the event that a PEP needed assistance.

“A lot of your ideas are very good,” said Battery Park City resident Justine Cuccia. “You’re getting the brunt of our aggravation and frustration that we have towards the Battery Park City Authority so I apologize for that. It’s not personal to you.”

“We’re good listeners,” Francis replied with a smile.

Following is the “summons productivity” of the PEP officers to date this year, as reported by Michael Dockett, the Parks Department’s assistant commissioner for the Urban Park Service, which oversees the PEPs.

136 Environmental Control Board summonses (violations against park rules such as illegal vending, public urination, alcohol consumption, etc.)

1,325 parking violations

12 criminal court summonses

5 arrests



'PEPS Kept the Community Safe'

I'm angry and disappointed about the possible decision to downsize or even eliminate the Park Enforcement Patrol(PEP) in lower Manhattan. Since 2003 they have kept the community safer being a deterrent to crime.  They also have been integrated into the Community Emergency Response Team. The Community Emergency Response Team(CERT) is a FEMA program which has certified over 1,000 people for dealing with mass causalities disasters. CERT is made up of resident managers, building personnel, local residents, and  Park enforcement personnel.  CERT's mission is to help save as many lives as possible during mass causalities disasters. We've seen our share of them. The pep officers are our 24/7 eyes and ears in the community and have the same legal authority as the police without sidearms. To lose them would be a breach in security in a highly targeted area. Our biggest enemy is complacency and it looks like some idiots are complacent about security and have very short memories. Park enforcement personnel should be increased instead of decreased. Those responsible for decreasing personnel by subbing it out to less trained people stand to have blood, terrorism, and crime on there hands. The highest roll of government is to supply the best security possible and the Park Enforcement Personnel fill that need. I would strongly encourage our 1,000 CERT members to show up on December 16th, at the River House Library between 5:00 and 6:00 pm to show their support. 

Deputy Director of CERT/ BPC