Volume 20, Number 43 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 9 - 15, 2011
Photo courtesy of Vince Smith
Adam Pratt’s (sitting) encounter with B.P.C.’s Parks Enforcement Patrol on January 29 led to a promise by the B.P.C.A. to monitor the situation.
Parks Dept. and B.P.C.A. promise PEPs reforms
BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Battery Park City resident Adam Pratt’s encounter with B.P.C.’s Parks Enforcement Patrol on January 29 when a dog walk ended with him being carted off to Bellevue Hospital in handcuffs has left a trail of repercussions.
Pratt says that a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer asked him for ID, and when he didn’t have any, struck him. Another PEP officer in plain clothes pursued him up South End Avenue as he tried to return to his home on Rector Place, and then several PEPs jumped him and handcuffed him, bruising his ribs. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital and would have been held there for 72 hours had a friend, Steve Moskowitz, not arrived and arranged for him to be released. At Bellevue he was issued a summons for “disorderly behavior” and has to appear in Criminal Court on April 12.
According to Pratt’s lawyer, David Oddo of Okun Oddo & Babat, a midtown firm that specializes in personal injury law, Pratt intends to sue both the Parks Department and the people who assaulted him.
“We’ve conducted a thorough investigation into the facts of the case,” said Oddo. “There were numerous witnesses.”
Press reports of the incident caused indignation and consternation in Battery Park City and a long discussion at Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee meeting on March 1. Gayle Horwitz, president and CEO of the Battery Park City Authority, which has a contract with the Parks Department for the Parks Enforcement Patrol, attended the meeting as did Michael H. Dockett, assistant commissioner, Urban Park Service, and Robert P. Reeves, inspector, Parks Enforcement Patrol, who supervises its law enforcement activities citywide.
Jeff Galloway, co-chairman of the Battery Park City Committee, said that he and his wife, Paula, had surveyed members of the B.P.C. Dog Association, which they head. He reported that they heard two kinds of complaints. One was that the PEPs were doing nothing other than talking on their cell phones and sleeping on the job. The other was what dog owners perceived as harassment. People walking their dogs, “minding their own business,” were asked to show ID. He said he found this shocking. “This is not Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany,” he said.
He went on to say, “As a practical matter, this is our backyard. Many of us, myself included, when I walk my dog in the morning, I put on whatever I can throw on and I don’t put my wallet in my back pocket.”
Paula Galloway said that members of the Dog Association had told her that they were afraid to walk on the Battery Park City esplanade because of the PEPs. One man, she reported, “said he was walking his dog at 12 o’clock at night with his dog on a leash and a cart came along with no lights on and someone yelled at him, ‘Control your dog!’ He was so scared he picked up the dog and they followed him slowly in this vehicle. He said the dog didn’t go to the bathroom. He was so afraid, he went home.”
Dockett asked whether the problems with the PEPs were occurring mostly at night. A chorus of people in the room yelled out, “Day and night!”
A Battery Park City resident, J. White, commented that the problems were not just with dogs. “My husband is disabled,” she said. “We like to walk on the esplanade during the day and on weekends. There are bicycle riders, skateboards. I’ve spoken to PEP officers and they’ve seen them, and what they say to me is ‘Sorry, but we’re going off duty.’ Or ‘I didn’t see that.’”
White continued that on one occasion she was sitting on a bench with her 12-pound dog, and said to a PEP officer, “‘Did you see that bicycle that just went by?’ She said no and kept walking, and then she turned around and said to me, ‘You don’t have control of your dog!’ I talked to the supervisor. I told him who it was. I went back to sit on the bench and they sent another PEP officer to watch me for 45 minutes. It happened about a year ago and I do know that the woman is still working here. I actually called 311 on that because I was not satisfied.”
“Did you get a response?” Dockett asked.
“No,” said White. “I have an incident number but no one ever called me back.”
“You’re not out there seeing these people!” said Richard Balestrino, another Battery Park City resident. “You’re dealing with people who are really rude and arrogant. They walk by us like we’re murderers, for God’s sake. We live here! If they got to know us, we wouldn’t have these situations in the first place.”
In response to complaints of this kind, which surfaced in the aftermath of the Adam Pratt episode, Gayle Horwitz said that the Battery Park City Authority has asked that all PEP personnel “undergo additional training above and beyond the enhanced training that they are already provided. The Parks Department has agreed to take that on and to provide additional training. We’ve also instituted a zero tolerance policy whereby any Parks employee involved in any incident will be removed from duty at Battery Park City until such time as that incident has been cleared. So while it’s under investigation, that individual will be moved to another location. We have no tolerance for anyone who’s not working with the best interests of the community in mind.”
Horwitz also said that the B.P.C.A. is reviewing its contract with the Parks Department “in light of the fact that the community has grown significantly and the issues have changed and evolved over the years.”
She said she would like to ask the committee for its input on parks enforcement services. “I’d like to work with the community to explore what you need,” she said. She asked that someone from the committee be designated to work with the Authority. Jeff Galloway has agreed to assume that role.
“Finally,” said Horwitz, “I’m instituting a quarterly town meeting with me and the Authority staff, including our Parks Conservancy. The PEP relationship will be on the agenda at every meeting plus other issues.”
Adam Pratt was present at that Battery Park City Committee meeting although he said nothing and some in the room may not have been aware of who he was.
“I was very comforted by the overwhelming support of the Battery Park City community that was expressed at the meeting,” he said by e-mail afterward.
He went on to say that when he leaves the building where he lives, “I am always followed by one or two PEP officers and have continued to video/document their actions and lack of following procedures. Ms. Horowitz’ ‘zero tolerance’ policy is not being followed.”
Vince Smith, owner of the Vince Smith Hair Experience on South End Avenue, who was one of the witnesses to what happened to Pratt on January 29, corroborated Pratt’s statement. “Adam stops by the salon sometimes in the evenings to say hi,” he said, “and when I go outside to say hello to him, I see the Parks Department police following him. They’re a matter of feet behind him. I’ve seen them wait outside for him when he comes in here. He’s scared, and a lot of other residents are scared to go outside in Battery Park City.”
Smith went on to say, “I’ve been here 20 years and have never had a problem with the police. It’s generally comforting for a business owner to know how much security there is in Battery Park City, but that would be if they were doing their job properly.”