Juniper Valley Park is just one green space in the borough that will soon get more supervision. The City’s Parks Department is significantly increasing its staff to include 81 new Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers who will protect park rules and assets in Queens and the rest of the city. The new hires will also include 207 city park workers, 96 maintenance and trade workers and 30 climbers and pruners to preserve trees, according to a Parks spokesperson.
The plans received a warm welcome in the southwest community, where many say that their parks, especially Juniper Valley, need extra eyes.
“It’s long overdue,” said Frank Kotnik, president of the 104th Precinct’s Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol (G-COP).
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said that Juniper Valley Park had “a tenth of the officers that they’ve needed” in the past.
“Any investment in PEP officers is a good investment,” he said. “There’s vandalism in the park, people who don’t respect park regulations. The cops are spread so thinly at this point that they really can’t handle all of the park’s complaints.”
The Parks spokesperson attributed the shortage of PEP officers to the fiscal crisis, As a result, the workforce has not kept pace with its growing infrastructure, the representative added.
The Parks Department said 12 PEP officers and six Urban Park Rangers currently patrol Queens parks, adding that its 2014 budget allows for the additional staffing that will be spread throughout the city.
The specific number of officers coming to Queens this summer is not yet known.
Holden said that however many officers are coming, the community “needs them working,” especially on off-hours such as nights and weekends.
“In Juniper, there are 10 times as many people there on the weekends. If there are no officers, it’s almost a free-for-all,” he said. “We have picnics going on, and people driving through on [illegal] four wheelers.”
“It has been difficult to get an officer there during the evening or on the weekends when the parks really need to be protected,” he added.
When Holden heard complaints in the past, he used his own police connections to attempt to get an officer to the park.
He hopes Juniper Valley Park will see an increase in patrol staff to help alleviate the problems.
“PEP officers are certainly welcome,” he said. “But we need to know where they are going to be deployed. It’s great news, but I’m not going to jump up and down with joy.”
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