By Bill Parry
For years residents on 38th Street in Astoria have been complaining of unsafe conditions at Sean’s Place playground due to broken bottles, drug paraphernalia and used condoms left by overnight trespassers. After “intense discussions” with elected officials, the Parks Department has begun locking the gate each night at 9 p.m. and returning to open the playground before 6 a.m.
“As early as 2012, this place has been a nightime hangout where needles, beer bottles, condoms and other remnants were left behind for children to find in the morning,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “Locking the gates will alleviate many of these safety concerns. This policy will greatly improve the park-going experience for families and benefit our neighborhood’s vital green space.”
Brian McCoy has been bringing his two children to the playground for the last six years and has seen one child recently pick up a crack pipe.
“Children like to explore nooks and crannies and if they see a pipe, they’ll put it in their mouth,” he said. “If they see a condom, they think it’s a balloon and put it in their mouth. Now the Parks Department is giving parents piece of mind and their children have a safe environment to play.”
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said the locked gates will make the playground safer for children and the surrounding neighborhood.
“If our parks are allowed to become overnight spots for illegal drug use and drinking, law-abiding residents and their children are faced with ugly detritus of those activities in the morning,” she said.
Despite the 114th Precinct sending patrols, the issues persisted so Parks Enforcement Patrol officers began locking the six-foot iron gate each night beginning April 27.
“Our parks are for kids not for derelicts to hang out after hours,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “If you make it harder to get into they find another place to go.”
The playground on 38th Street between Broadway and 31st Street, is named for slain rookie NYPD Police Officer Sean McDonald, who was born in Ireland and moved to Astoria as a child. He graduated from Most Precuious Blood Catholic School and joined the force in the early 90s.
On March 15, 1994, Officer McDonald was standing guard at a condemned building in the Bronx when he was told of a disturbance at a nearby tailor shop. He investigated the situation and disrupted a robbery in progress but while handcuffing the perpetrator he was shot and killed. The following year, city officials and community leaders gathered to rename the playground Sean’s Place..
“Officer Sean McDonald served his community with dedication and sadly made the ultimate sacrifice,” Constantinides said. “To commemorate his sacrifice, our neighborhood dedicated Sean’s Place Playground in his memory. Maintaining this green space clean and making it safe for all families continues to honor Officer McDonald and his family.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr