Park Safety in the Bronx

By Yaniris Monegro

Most parents consider parks to be safe havens where their kids can socialize, connect with nature or simply break a sweat.

However, on October 14, Bronx residents learned about the rape of an 11-year-old in the bathroom of Hilton White Park on Cauldwell Avenue and East 163rd St.

“When I first heard the news I was horrified because I have a 14-year-old daughter and I take her to the park,” said Jasmine Vargas, 52, a factory worker and Bronx resident. “I would never expect that horrific thing would happen in my park.”

According to NYPD data for over 1100 city parks not including Central Park, there was an increase in violent felonies reported on park properties in recent years. In fiscal year 2015, there were 488 reported incidents. In 2016, there were 612. In 2017, the number rose still higher to 670. There have been 238 reported violent incidents as of September 30, 2018, a small decrease from the previous year. However, there has been an increase in property crimes like robberies, compared to last year.

“I think they should put more police around parks so that this never happens again and we could feel a little more secure taking our kids to the park,” Vargas said. Salma Khalis, 37, lives in Pelham Parkway South in White Plains and she said she feels parks aren’t safe for her two daughters ages 10 and 4. “I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t like my kids to go to the bathroom in the park. It’s not safe here.”

The Parks Department says that the NYPD has the primary responsibility for public safety in parks, much like the rest of the city, and that the unarmed Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) focuses on quality-of-life violations. According to the 2018 Mayor’s Management Report, Park Enforcement Patrol officers issued over 10,000 summonses, an increase of over 50 percent, but most were parking violations.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has a budget of $487.5 million (including city and non-city funds) for the 2018 fiscal year. That is $18.9 million less than the 2017 adopted budget of $506.4 million. In addition to having less capital for parks, the department reports there are not funds allocated for more safety measures.

Carmen Valentine, 40, mother of a 7-year-old daughter said she doesn’t like parks in the Bronx. “There are a lot of people drinking and smoking marijuana,” she said. “I take my daughter to parks in Manhattan because I feel they is more security. I never see police officers policing parks in the Bronx.”

Recently New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver retweeted an article about the benefits of green spaces to fight crime, encouraging New Yorkers to invest in parks to help fight crime. The study to “Effects of greening and community reuse of vacant lots on crime,” in the Urban Studies Journal, did show a significant reduction in crime, but it was done in lots that were empty and converted into green spaces to study its effects, not parks.

Elys Ortiz, 50, a salesperson who raised two daughters, now age 22 and 18, also has a 4-year-old grand-daughter. “I always take my kids to the park. I don’t let them go by themselves because I fear what can happen to them,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way. We should life in a society where our kids are safe in public parks.”


Rape is not the only issue residents have to worry about parks. There have been eight murders, 271 robberies, 201 felony assaults, 14 burglaries and 469 grand larceny incidents in New York City parks as of Sep 30, 2018, according to the NYPD crime statistics.


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