Parks commissioner acknowledges spike in crime

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A policeman patrols Central Park. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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The rise in crime in New York City parks is part of a "citywide trend" in grand larcenies, said Liam Kavanagh, the Parks Department's first deputy commissioner, who is serving as agency chief until Mayor Bill de Blasio's appointee arrives in May.

"As you know, the police department tracks and reports on crime in 30 large parks, the six largest parks in each of the five boroughs," said Kavanagh during a City Council hearing this afternoon. "And based on those numbers, there has been an increase in crime in parks. It’s largely in the grand larceny category."

Major crimes in those 30 parks increased almost 18 percent in 2013, compared to the year before, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Kavanagh said many of those crimes involved the theft of "unattended property" like credit cards, smartphones, iPads and other Apple products.

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"That seems to be part of something that's happening throughout the city, not just in parks," said Kavanagh.

In addition to the New York Police Department, city parks are patrolled by a small corps of Park Enforcement Patrol officers. 

According to Kavanagh, there are now 252 of them citywide, some of them contracted by public-private partnerships like the Hudson River Park Trust. Only 161 work exclusively for the department.

"There were significantly more P.E.P. officers in the late '80s and early '90s," said the commissioner.

A councilman asked Kavanagh if there was any correlation between the size of the patrols and the amount of crime.

Kavanagh said that "certainly, a uniformed presence" is a "deterrent to crime. But I don’t think we’re able to correlate that headcount and patrol regularity with direct crime reduction."

"We know that parks are safe," he added. "Certainly, as the city has gotten safer, so have parks."