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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Battery Park City’s Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) had received generally high marks from B.P.C. residents — that is, until January 2011, when former resident Adam Pratt had a run-in with them while walking his dog. As a result, Pratt was handcuffed and taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation.
On July 3, another disturbing incident surfaced.
Neighborhood resident and dog owner Jared Sheer spotted two dogs running freely on the lawn, which is against park rules. Three PEP officers asked the dogs’ owners — a couple from the neighborhood — to leash the pets, which they did immediately. Then, according to Sheer, the officers surrounded one of the owners and demanded to see identification. The man said he didn’t have his ID on him, but that he lived nearby, on River Terrace, and could go get it.
The officers pursued him as he began to walk away and then attempted to physically restrain him. “As an officer of the court, I felt a heightened duty to intervene,” said the eyewitness. “However, before I could, the man, clearly fearful of the out-of-control situation, was able to get the Parks Enforcement officers off of him and ran straight for his apartment building.”
More PEP officers arrived along with the cops, and the man was handcuffed and taken away in a police car.
Jeff Galloway, who founded the B.P.C. Dog Association with his wife, Paula, said that Captain Edwin Falcon, head of the B.P.C. PEP, notified them of the incident the following day, reporting a confrontation involving a civilian’s assault of a PEP officer.
The Galloways also heard from Sheer, who painted a different picture.
“We contacted Gayle Horwitz, [president of the Battery Park City Authority], to alert her that we had received these reports that were inconsistent with one another,” Jeff Galloway said. “We wanted to make sure that this was being looked into. She informed us that the incident is being investigated by the Parks Department.”
Horwitz wouldn’t comment, pending the outcome of the city’s investigation into the incident.
The Parks Department has referred the matter to the city Department of Investigation (D.O.I.), which looks into complaints against city employees and those who do business with the city. A spokesperson for the D.O.I. declined to comment on how long the PEP investigation would take, who in the department was handling it and what the repercussions might be. The D.O.I. has the authority to refer complaints to the courts if deemed necessary.
Two Januarys ago, Pratt claimed to have been assaulted by PEP officers on South End Avenue when he didn’t produce identification, but was issued a summons for disorderly conduct. He ended up filing a lawsuit against the city.
Officers’ demand for identification often escalates the interaction between them and otherwise law-abiding citizens, Galloway said.
“If an officer of the law observes you doing something that justifies them issuing either a warning or a summons, they have the legal right to demand an ID from you,” he said. If you don’t have ID, he noted, the police can haul you to the First Precinct and hold you until your identification can be established.
According to Galloway, dog owners such as himself frequently leave their apartments without carrying ID. “I’ve explained to the PEP officers, ‘You have to realize this is not Central Park. This is not a place where people normally have an ID.’”
Following the altercation between Pratt and the PEP, the patrol officers underwent special training to make them aware that, though they were patrolling a park, they were dealing with a local population.
Some PEP officers were reassigned at that time, which Galloway said had the intended effect. “In general,” he said, “I’ve observed the PEPs interact appropriately with all sorts of people.”