Privatization of security at Battery Park City provokes community outrage

 

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Sgt. Sam Hendricks, a Parks Enforcement Patrol Officer, evacuated people from Battery Park City during the World Trade Center attacks and during superstorms Irene and Sandy. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

In a move that flouts a community’s repeated demands to keep city Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers at Battery Park City, the authority ousted all PEP Officers and put AlliedBarton private security guards in their place.

The move set off a firestorm with residents, politicians and the union who unitedly say, “Bring PEP Officers back!”

“It’s outrageous that the board would be so flagrant as to ignore the community and elected officials, and jeopardize safety at Battery Park City with AlliedBarton rent-a-cops, whose response to danger is ‘Do nothing!’” said Joe Puleo, president of Local 983, which represents the PEP Officers.

At a December meeting, the authority led residents to believe the tony community would continue to have a security force of PEP Officers and private “safety ambassadors.”

But chair Dennis Mehiel announced Jan. 30 on the authority’s website that, “PEP Officers were cut in response to community feedback.”

“The authority is both deceitful (about the PEP contract) and uninformed about the community’s wishes and needs,” residents wrote in an online petition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on democracy4BPC.org.

Community Board 1 voted unanimously to keep PEP Officers. And state Sen. Daniel L. Squadron, U.S.  Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly member Deborah Glick and City Council member Margaret Chin wrote Mehiel asking the board to table requests for proposals for private security “until the community’s concerns are met.”

Mehiel ignored their demands.

The authority refused to renew its longstanding $2.5 million contract with the city Parks Dept. for PEP Officers. Instead, it inked a $2.1 million deal with AlliedBarton, whose employees are not authorized to make arrests or issue summonses.  As sworn Peace Officers, PEP officers have the power to make arrests and issue summonses.

In late December, the community’s worse fears were realized. AlliedBarton bungled an assault on two teens near the Battery Park ball fields. Security called their supervisors– not NYPD– and delayed emergency help for almost 30 minutes, witnesses said. Both teens were beaten and robbed; one was unconscious and hospitalized with head injuries.  The incident and how it was mishandled by AlliedBarton and the authority angered the community.

PEP Officers have patrolled the 92-acre riverside park since 1992. “They are the reason the neighborhood had a zero crime rate,” Puleo said.

PEP Officers are trained in federal rescue and evacuation and lifesaving CPR. They guided thousands from Battery Park City and the Twin Towers to safety during the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. A decade later they evacuated residents during hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

The Local 983 members have not lost their jobs, but the Parks Dept. reassigned them.

Residents called their situation “taxation without representation,” and asked Cuomo to appoint community residents to vacant posts on the authority board; currently, only one board member lives in Battery Park City. Multimillionaire packing and paper cup magnate Mehiel doesn’t live in Battery Park City, but he docks two of his 50-foot yachts in its marina.

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