Amid Controversy, Private Security Begins Patrolling BPC Parks

On his first day of work in Battery Park City, an AlliedBarton "ambassador" patrols the esplanade. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 21, 2015

Private security officers now patrol Battery Park City’s parks.

The “BPC Ambassadors” from AlliedBarton Security Services, hard to miss in fluorescent-yellow jackets, began making their rounds on Friday, Dec. 18. In the north neighborhood on that rainy first day, one officer patrolled the esplanade on bike while another walked a route that took him on a loop around the esplanade and North End Avenue. There were watchful stops along the way, on the north side of North Cove, from atop the Irish Hunger Memorial, at the ferry terminal, and the neighborhood playground, among others.

During the hour they were observed by a reporter, no Parks Enforcement Patrol officers were seen. Unlike the PEPs, the new security officers are not empowered to make arrests or write summonses, a matter of concern among many opponents of the AlliedBarton contract.  

The private security force arrived just two days after a raucous town hall meeting where Battery Park City Authority officials sat before residents angered over the authoritys decision, approved by its board in October, to largely replace the PEPs.

It was a meeting that touched on a wide variety of topics, from the West Thames Bridge to rats to vehicles that park on sidewalks. But what residents mostly wanted to talk about was the issue of security and the way the authority makes its decisions.

The PEP contract with the city’s Parks Department ends on Jan. 31, authority president Shari Hyman told the standing-room only crowd. Negotiations with the Parks Department over the number and role of the PEP officers after that date are ongoing and private, she said.

In the meantime, the new security officers will have patrol duties beyond the green spaces, BPCA vice president Benjamin Jones announced, and be “additional eyes and ears, not just for safety issues but for maintenance issues and reporting them back to us.”

Jones, the authority staff member who oversees security, told the group that the PEP contract with the Parks Department “remains in effect and that includes our current 24/7 coverage.”

The announcement drew applause from residents, but the reception was short-lived once Assemblywoman Deborah Glick asked for clarification. Hyman conceded that only a few weeks remain on that contract.

There were angry shouts from the audience and an irate response from Battery Park City resident Justine Cuccia, a public member of Community Board 1 who recently called for an end to Chairman Dennis Mehiel’s stewardship of the authority.

“Part of the reason we’re so frustrated as a community is the miscommunication and the half-truths that are coming forward,” Cuccia said to applause.

“The problem,” Cuccia added, “is the trust is broken.”

“And we have to work to restore it,” replied Mehiel, who after three-and-a-half years in office was making his first public appearance in Battery Park City outside of the board room.

The town hall, the first of four such meetings scheduled over the next year, was a response to complaints about a series of unpopular authority decisions kept hidden from public scrutiny, according to the critics. Mehiel argued that the authority’s desire to make a change to park security was public because the request for proposals was available on its website.

“Our intent was not to deceive anybody,” he said, asserting that certain information had to be withheld because it was the subject of negotiations. And in any case, he said, the Parks Department had not responded to the proposal request. (“We weren’t asked to respond to the RFP,” Michael Docket, the Parks Assistant Commissioner for Urban Park Service, said at the November meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee.)

“There are any number of ways you could tell the community that you are looking into a new idea with the PEP contract,” Pat Smith, the president of his Battery Park City condominium, told the authority officials. “You hold some meetings, you get some input, you answer some questions about what your goals are. That’s got nothing to do with [confidential] negotiations.”

Martha Gallo, who is both a Battery Park City resident and member of the authority board, had called for the authority to hold the town hall meeting and now found herself in the role of peacemaker. In the future, she acknowledged, the authority needs to be clear “about the process and the timetable and when and where it’s appropriate to get community input.”

“I think the PEP topic, guys, is a lesson learned,” she said.