Park rape and looming cuts to police heighten safety fears

Chanting “Whose park? Our park!” Bob Townley of Manhattan Youth, right, local parents, Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Margaret Chin and other community leaders marched along the waterfront Monday morning. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  In Hudson River Park, near where a 21-year-old actress was raped early on Sat., Sept. 22, city councilmembers, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, community leaders and Downtown residents gathered on Monday to express their determination that nothing like that will happen again.

After a brief press conference, around 50 people marched north along the waterfront chanting, “Whose park? Our park!”

“We won’t yield one blade of grass, one street corner to the perpetrators,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who led the rally. She alluded to another rape that had taken place on Sept. 12 in Central Park and said that women should not be afraid to enjoy New York City’s parks.

Both alleged rapists have been apprehended. Both have previous records as sexual offenders.

The rapes have occurred at a time of proposed budget cuts for the New York Police Department and the Parks Enforcement Patrol. On Sept. 23, Quinn and several other city councilmembers wrote to Mayor Bloomberg, saying, “In light of the recent disturbing events in our parks, it has become evident to us that we cannot afford any further cuts to the budgets of the N.Y.P.D. and to Parks Enforcement personnel.”

The letter called on the mayor and on the Office of Management and Budget “to rescind any proposed cuts in the upcoming November Financial Plan that would result in reductions in public safety in our parks or anywhere in our city.”

At the Hudson River Park rally, Quinn commended Park Enforcement Patrol Officers Daniel Murphy and Luis Cabezas, who pursued the alleged Tribeca rapist.

The officers said that when they came on duty shortly after 5 a.m. on Saturday, the naked victim came running toward them, screaming. As Murphy cared for the victim, Cabezas chased the suspect, who he found cowering in the West St. median near North Moore St., two blocks north of where the attack occurred. Police officers summoned by the Parks Enforcement Patrol, arrested Jonathan Stewart, 25, and charged him with rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, assault and forcible touching.

Madelyn Wils, president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust, which administers the 5-mile-long waterfront park, said that 24 PEP officers guard the park 24 hours a day. The park runs from Battery Park at the southern end of Manhattan to 59th Street. It is officially open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.

The Hudson River Park Trust pays for its PEP officers. However, the Trust is financially strapped and cannot afford to add to the policing staff.

The rape took place around 5 a.m.

“We encourage people to come to the park after 6 a.m. when the park opens and it’s fully daylight,” Wils said, “but the victim didn’t deserve what happened to her.”

Wils and Quinn both said that New York City’s parks are generally safe. The Tribeca rape was the first to have occurred in Hudson River Park, which opened in stages after it was officially created as a New York State and City partnership in 1998.

Nevertheless, Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth and a member of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, said that more police are needed.

Madelyn Wils, the Hudson River Park Trust’s president, encouraged people to use the park when it’s open, from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Listening to her comments were Council Speaker Christine Quinn, to the right of her, and Councilmember Margaret Chin and Julie Menin of Community Board 1 to her left, along with Park Enforcement Patrol officers and other local leaders. Photo by Tequila Minsky

“This is not a local park anymore,” he remarked.

During the day, he said, the park “polices itself” because there are so many people coming and going, but at night, the park is deserted.

He said that he was not surprised at the rape.

“I went on record a year and a half ago that this could happen,” he said.

Democratic District Leader Jean Grillo said, “For years I’ve talked to the First Precinct Community Council for increased police protection.” She cited an increase in the local population and also in the numbers of homeless as creating a need for greater vigilance. “This is a park used by a lot of women,” she stated.

Julie Menin, former Community Board 1 chairperson, who lives two blocks from the site of the assault, added, “We’ve seen five rapes south of 59th St. recently in Manhattan. This is a great concern for women throughout the city. Given this,” she stressed, “there should not be budget cuts that would affect security in our parks.”

The city offers free self-defense classes given by the Center for Anti-Violence Education (C.A.E.). In response to the Central Park rape, there will be a class at 2 p.m. on Sun., Oct. 7, at the North Meadow Recreation Center on 97th St. A class will also be held in Tribeca at a date to be announced.

Although C.A.E.’s programs focus on women, girls and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, the city-sponsored self-defense programs are open to everyone. To sign up or for more information, e-mail Events@council.nyc.gov  or call   (212) 788-6871.

With reporting by Tequila Minsky

On Monday morning, a woman jogged along the esplanade near where the rape occurred. Someone had chalked a pink heart on the ground in contrast to the violent crime. Photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

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3 Responses to Park rape and looming cuts to police heighten safety fears

  1. Rudolf Rssendyll

    I'm puzzled. Here we have two very effective Parks Enforcement staff, proving responsive and effective at least in catching the person who committed this crime, and also rendering assistance to the victim. On the other hand, other Parks Enforcement staff have shown themselves officious and arrogant to BPC residents — who was that poor man so terribly abused by Parks Enforcement staff some while back? Then there is the puzzle presented by the evidence of declining crime and consequent reduction in various policing budgets, yet increase in successful attacks on persons, especially women, as Ms. Menin notes. There is the ongoing puzzle of how effective a police force such as NYPD, with its large number of unfit, obese policemen (among other problems), can be.

  2. I have been thinking about your comment regarding the effectiveness of the Parks Enforcement Patrol and how they came through brilliantly in the rape situation but recently handcuffed a Battery Park City resident with a dog who didn't have ID on him. My thoughts are these: any isolated case does not reflect on a group of diverse people. You would have to examine numerous incidents to see a trend one way or the other. Moreover, when a naked woman ran toward the PEP officers around 5 a.m., screaming, it would be clear to them that something was seriously wrong and they needed to act. A man with an unleashed dog and no ID on him presented a less clearcut situation. You would think the PEP would go easy on such an individual but there was more latitude there for judgment.

  3. I have to agree with Rudolf, in that PEP seems to have a different method of dealing with residents and from what I have heard this is not an isolated incident, and its effectiveness with real crime. I would add that I had occasion to pass the new Barclay Center where there was an abundance of police, and I have to ask why are public servants (and that is what the police are) are used to protect I private interest, while other parts of the city are left unprotected, and the point about the obese and out of shape police is spot on. It seems police also have a new job as they protect crooked principals and parents of children in schools illegally, but that is another comment for another day

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