Testimony to the Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council on Int. No. 470: Crime Reporting in Parks

Thank you Chairman Vallone and members of the Public Safety Committee for holding today’s hearing. My name is Kit Hodge. I am the Campaign Coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocates for walking, bicycling and sensible transportation.

I am here today to urge the passage of Int. No. 470, which will require the Police Department to submit to the Council reports of crime in areas under the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The NYPD’s successful TrafficStat program allows the agency to target problem areas and fight driver crime accordingly. TrafficStat helps the NYPD make immediate improvements to locations, and has been a key component of reducing the number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries over the past two years.

As wonderful as TrafficStat is, however, the police will never be able to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries to acceptable levels without changes in long-term park and street policy, including reducing drivers’ access to Prospect and Central Park. TrafficStat is an effective system for allocating enforcement resources; it is not a system for tackling root causes of driver crime. If it did, the NYPD would be forced to conclude that, despite recent gains, New York City still remains downright dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists when compared to other, similar cities. While the number of total traffic fatalities declined dramatically from 343 in 2003 to about 286 in 2004, pedestrian fatalities actually held steady (178 in 2003 and 179 in 2004), and bicycling fatalities increased.

Providing park crime data will allow park advocates to work with city agencies to identify and tackle larger, long term issues that promote crime in the parks, including traffic crashes.

Attached is a letter Transportation Alternatives received from a woman who was mugged in Prospect Park by a group of boys last year. In it, she observes that

“People should beware of riding a bike on the park's loop road when cars are present, as the drivers are useless as witnesses or protectors until after an assault is completed and the attackers have fled. Also, the cars are useful to the attackers in forcing a bike rider into an ambush, because a bicyclist who swerved to avoid the attackers would be hit by a car.”

This crime may have been prevented by more patrol of the park, but more likely by getting to the root of the problem in the park—allowing drivers onto the Park’s loop drive—especially considering the scarcity of available patrol agents. Her story begs the questions of whether there have been similar incidents in the park over a longer period of time and what the City can do to solve a chronic problem—questions that can only be answered by examining long term crime data in the park.

By identifying and solving the larger issues that promote crime, the City will make the jobs of the NYPD and Parks Department’s Enforcement Patrol and Urban Park Rangers easier. Parks Enforcement Patrol and Urban Park Rangers are already stretched thin, and have little ability to chase down reckless speeding drivers. Similarly, preventing crime by addressing its root causes will free police officers to concentrate on unpredictable serious crime.

We all want safe parks. Crime begets crime, driving away users and creating emptier and less cared for spaces. When people feel safe in their parks, they use parks and in turn, deter drug dealing, graffiti and criminal behavior and help to make parks a vital community resource; in particular, safe and accessible parks are important community tools for fighting New York City’s obesity epidemic. Being struck by a driver is the leading cause of preventable injury and death for children 5 to 14 in New York City, and 43% of New York City kids are overweight or obese.

We look forward to using publicly available park crime data to work with the Council and City agencies to identify and eradicate the root causes of park crime, helping our parks fulfill their promise as safe and accessible community resources.

Thank you.


Attachment

Letter received by Transportation Alternatives on 11/30/2004

While bicycling on the loop road in Prospect Park at 5 pm on November 18, I saw three boys, apparently in their early teens, standing in the bike lane and blocking my way. Two of them had bicycles. The presence of traffic in the car lanes forced me into the path of these three people, who surrounded me and smashed me and my bike to the ground.

As I hit the road (literally), I was able to twist my spine in a way that prevented me from hitting my head and blacking out and kept me from having my upper torso run over by cars. I was able to get up to fight my attackers, and that apparently caught them so off guard that they ran away. I was stunned - three guys running from me, a short, thin woman.

My attackers appeared to be using the moving cars as a weapon by trying to throw me into a car lane, perhaps with a goal of making assault or robbery look like a traffic accident, and/or preventing my resistance by disabling me while leaving my bike intact for their use. If bike theft was their main goal, they might have achieved it more easily by pushing me away from the road, where there was a downhill slope that would have provided gravity to assist them in separating me from my bike, and where there was more privacy and darkness to protect them.

The perpetrators in this case are unlikely to be arrested because my description was of poor quality by police standards. Traffic was moving too fast for drivers to be able to act as witnesses.

On the bright side, I had a good experience with bystanders, police, emergency room staff, neighbors, and friends following the incident. I am fortunate that my injuries are minor, as this attack could have caused serious injuries or death.

Whether the goal of this attack was robbery, bicycle theft, or random violence, it was a dangerous act. Other Prospect Park loop walkers, runners, skaters, and bike riders should beware. Bike riders should be especially careful because their bikes could be theft targets, and the combination of height off the ground and high center of gravity makes smashing people on bikes to the ground easier and have more impact on the victim.

People should beware of riding a bike on the park's loop road when cars are present, as the drivers are useless as witnesses or protectors until after an assault is completed and the attackers have fled. Also, the cars are useful to the attackers in forcing a bike rider into an ambush, because a bicyclist who swerved to avoid the attackers would be hit by a car.

I no longer believe that cars and bikes can share that road, especially at sunset or after. The cars' presence cuts down on the number walkers and bikers, who are moving slowly enough to be observant in what is an isolated area by city standards. Everyone notices far less while driving a car than while on a bike or on foot, because driving a car requires more focused attention and you're moving too fast to see everything, especially when it's dark.

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