PRESS RELEASE: PARK PATRONS URGED TO BE CAUTIOUS AND ALERT WHILE VISITING BEACHES, PARKS AND SITES
Monday, July 02, 2018
PARK PATRONS URGED TO BE CAUTIOUS AND ALERT WHILE VISITING BEACHES, PARKS AND HISTORIC SITES
Concerns based on Flawed Patchwork Patrol Policy by State Parks Agency
New Yorkers celebrating the Fourth of July week activities are being urged to be aware of their surroundings and note that some state parks and historic sites may be left without a law enforcement presence due to a flawed patchwork patrol policy being practiced by the state agency charged with managing more than 180 venues across the state.
The warning comes from the PBA of New York State, the organization representing the police officers working at recreational facilities and heritage sites enjoyed by 71 million visitors last year.
Their concern stems from actions directed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation which assign modest numbers of Park Police officers to meet what is expected to be record crowds due to the ongoing heat wave and holiday week.
“Officers are being assigned to locations and venues for special events at Bear Mountain, Jones Beach and Niagara Falls while other local facilities may be left unpatrolled or require lengthy response times in the event of an emergency,” said Manuel Vilar, a member of the PBA of New York State’s Executive Board and Founding President as well as an active duty Sergeant for the past 34 years. “The simple fact is that the current staffing level is insufficient to combat the demands of the season.”
“The notion that law enforcement is able to serve as a visible deterrent is inconsistent with reality; more alarming is the fact that a 252-member park police force is expected to effectively cover 180 venues during the peak summer season,” Vilar continued. “It is unacceptable that both park patrons and officers are at risk.”
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Earlier this year, legislation (Senate 5267/Assembly 6968) sponsored by State Senator Rich Funke (R-Monroe County) and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Nassau County) was identified as an organizational priority advanced by the PBA of New York State, the organization representing State Park Police Officers.
Senator Rich Funke said: "State Park Police risk their lives every day performing the same duties as New York State Police. There's no reason for them not to be on the same level playing field, especially when you consider how much safer our families will be by bringing the two entities together. Families and tourists look to our state parks and state lands as recreational outings. Public safety is our priority, and this legislation clearly demonstrates our commitment to protecting families, while supporting law enforcement. "
Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said: "As we enter the summer season, we should recognize the brave men and women of the State Park Police who patrol our parks and beaches. These highly trained, experienced police professionals strive to create a safe and welcoming environment in all of our State Parks. Despite their benefits, the State Park Police Force is not provided with all the necessary tools and attrition rate is very high. I encourage all my governmental colleagues to support and enact this important legislation. As millions of New York families and tourists visit our State Parks each year, we must ensure that we provide efficient public safety measures."
According to Vilar, the idea is not new, and dates back to Governor Hugh Carey’s administration in 1980 when the Parkway Police were partially merged into the State Police and again in 1998 when a directive issued by Governor George Pataki for the State Police to assume oversight responsibility for the New York State Park Police. That action came about stemming from long-standing deficiencies in State Park Police operations. Today’s State Park Police struggle to maintain staffing levels and are devastated by an unsustainable rate of attrition. The New York State Department of Civil Service recommends a Park Police strength to number 387.
Vilar, who is assigned to Long Island frequently supervises police officers in every regional park including the six-mile-long Jones Beach waterfront, said: “This is a common sense recommendation, and in 2018 it is just as valid under Governor Cuomo’s leadership as it was twenty years ago when proposed by Governor Pataki.”
The idea of the merger was further contemplated in 2003 when a joint agency review presented two options: 1) A merger of the Park Police into the New York State Police; or 2) Create an Autonomous State Park Police Entity.
The sponsor’s memo of support states the bill will result in enhanced public safety and cost savings by better utilization of the workforce and reduced costs for the academy and training for both forces. Additionally, the merger will address the high rate of attrition faced by the State Park Police while eliminating duplication of services and equipment. It will also reduce overtime costs incurred by the State Park Police as a stand-alone unit.
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The PBA of New York State represents the interest and well-being of New York State University (SUNY) Police, Park Police and Environmental Conservation Police; as well as its Forest Rangers. Its members protect state universities and colleges; parks and historic sites; and they enforce state laws and protect our lands, forests and resources.