NYC Parks Set to Get Security Funds Weeks After Gang Rape Claim

The city's parks are poised to receive additional money for security less than two weeks after a woman reported being gang-raped by teenage boys in a playground.

Democratic Mayor de Blasio wants to increase funding for security by approximately 30 percent, allowing the city to hire 67 full-time Parks Enforcement Patrol staffers and another 50 seasonal part-timers as part of his preliminary budget proposal, which he is slated to unveil on Thursday.

Mayoral aides briefed The Associated Press on the plan on Wednesday and said de Blasio will propose that the city add $5.3 million to the park security's existing $14.7 million budget. The new agents will largely be sent to a number of high-traffic parks and attractions, including the Coney Island boardwalk, Battery Park, Prospect Park and some Staten Island parks.

Dennis Vourderis, owner of Deno's Wonder Wheel, part of Coney Island's iconic amusement park, said the additional funding is "fantastic news."

"With a higher volume of people coming here, inevitably there is going to be more quality-of-life issues," Vourderis said. "We want people to want to come back, and having more eyes on things helps."

The Parks Enforcement Patrol staffers largely focus on enforcing parks regulations, such as illegal vending, prohibited alcohol consumption and visitor harassment. Officials said the new agents' presence will free up police officers to focus on more serious offenses.

"By boosting security in our parks, we'll help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to safe, clean and green open space," de Blasio said in a statement.

Crime in New York parks has continued to decrease along with city's overall crime rate. There were 391 crimes — against people and property — across the parks system last year, down from 432 the year before. Parks make up 14 percent of the city's land area but less than 1 percent of its total crime.

But a spotlight has been cast on their safety since an 18-year-old woman reported being raped at a Brooklyn playground on Jan. 7.

Prosecutors investigating the woman's report of being assaulted by five teenage boys in the playground told a judge last week they need more time to gather evidence before they decide whether to take the case to a grand jury.

Four of the defendants are out of jail while the fifth is being held on an unrelated assault case. The woman told police she was attacked after drinking beer with her father in the playground. The boys say the encounter was consensual.

Mayoral aides said the plan for new funding for parks security was put in place before the rape report.

Budget hearings in the City Council, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, will begin in the next few weeks and will be followed by a revised mayoral budget this spring. Councilman Mark Levine of Manhattan, the chair of the council's parks committee, praised the de Blasio plan as "a vitally needed improvement that will be felt by all New Yorkers."

A final deal is expected to be struck in June. Last year's budget totaled $78.5 billion. The budget covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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