Safer green spaces

It’s springtime and our thoughts turn to balmy days in the borough’s parks, which are a mecca for family outings, bike riding and sporting events such as soccer matches. But criminals—some barely out of elementary school and others with long rap sheets—see vast opportunities for mischief in Queens’ green spaces.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), whose district covers half of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, is rightfully outraged because Queens is only getting eight new Parks Enforcement Patrol officers to police the entire borough.

The mayor recently announced that the latest city budget includes funds for 67 new PEP officers throughout the city, a welcome move. But after the additional PEP staff are parceled out, Queens will be left holding the bag with the fewest on patrol.

In fact, Lancman pointed out the new unarmed PEP recruits will give Manhattan about 21 officers per 1,000 acres of parkland, Brooklyn 15 and Queens less than five.

Particularly troubling is the rising crime rate in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which straddles two police precincts but has only sporadic NYPD coverage. Like Central Park, the most dangerous in the city based on police stats, Flushing Meadows is spread over many acres and has a number of isolated spots that are difficult to patrol. But Central Park has its own police precinct.

Without dedicated PEP officers to enforce the law, Queens’ biggest park can become a playground for young gang members, armed criminals, truants and drug dealers. They share the space with the US Open in the summer, but somehow the tennis lovers and the law breakers tend to stick to their own turf.

Even though Flushing Meadows is No. 2 on the dangerous park list, it still is relatively safe. The Parks Department has stressed that crime is very low when measured across all Queens’ parks, which account for 14 percent of the city’s land.

Nevertheless, Queens lawmakers and parents worry about the safety of neighborhood playgrounds, especially at night. City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) is drawing up a bill that would require PEP officers to lock playgrounds at 9 p.m. Sean’s Park, a playground in his district, is littered with broken beer bottles, drug paraphernalia and used condoms every morning.

The councilman was emphatic that his bill would not involve parks.

Both Lancman and Constantindes are on the mark. Queens needs better protection for people using its parks and stronger support from City Hall.

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