Wash. Sq. skateboarders, noise, lax curfew cause concern

BY GABE HERMAN | Cracking down on high-flying skateboarders, enforcing the curfew, and maybe even adding permanent gates for the first time, were among the quality-of-life issues in Washington Square Park recently discussed at Community Board 2 meeting.

Detective Robert Jackson of the Sixth Precinct addressed the June 24 meeting, held jointly by the board’s Social Services and Parks & Waterfront committees.

While the landmarked park’s crime rates are generally holding steady, one committee member raised the issue of skateboarders in the Greenwich Village greensward, saying they are a problem. Detective Jackson said that about 30 to 40 percent of summonses issued in the park are for skateboarders and cyclists. Both activities are prohibited inside the park.

A cyclist riding though Washington Square Park. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

“Skateboarding in the park is out of control. We need enforcement of rules,” a community member said. It was added that the park needs more signs to indicate that skateboarding is not allowed.

Another community suggestion was adding a skate park in the area, so the skateboarders have somewhere to go besides Washington Square Park. Susanna Aaron, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Social Services Committee, told this paper that there did not seem to be significant opposition to adding a skate park somewhere, though issues would likely have to be dealt with regarding any specific plan.

At a March public meeting in the Village about how to improve nearby Mercer Playground, on Mercer St. between Bleecker and W. Third Sts., a skate park was one of the top community suggestions. That space is just a few blocks from Washington Square Park.

At a spring public meeting, many locals favored adding a skate park at Mercer Playground, above. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

However, people at the June C.B. 2 meeting said they are intimidated by the skateboarders in Washington Square and scared of getting hurt, Aaron said. In addition, there is some cultural fear that if people try to talk to the skateboarders, it might not go well.

A community member said the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers need to establish relationships with skateboarders in the park, and with others who some consider to be causing problems, like musicians who play loudly. It was noted that most people, however, don’t want to cause problems, and are willing to get out of people’s way, or lower music, if they are treated with respect. It was noted that a Washington Square PEP officer, Sergeant Rivera, had established such relationships but was then reassigned.

The main cycling issue raised by community members actually was not riders inside the park, but those on the streets, according to Aaron.

People said they were afraid of cyclists, and that the bikers go against traffic, ride on sidewalks and run red lights, and there seems to be no police enforcement of the laws.

New bike lanes, like the one above, were recently added around some of the park’s borders. But locals said cyclists not following the rules were a big problem in the neighborhood. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

One local resident noted that many P.S. 41 parents won’t let their children walk to school by themselves because they worry about injuries from bicycles riding the wrong way.

Detective Jackson said that the park’s northwest corner continues to be plagued by problem behavior, including drinking, urination and drug use.

The detective added that noise complaints are another ongoing issue. He noted that amplified sound is illegal in the park without a permit and that all music is prohibited in the park after 10 p.m.

Noise in the park can’t exceed certain decibel levels. But Jackson said the problem is that a decibel reading from a sound gun can only be used as court evidence if taken by someone properly certified to use the equipment, and most PEP officers are not certified. Those that were certified were reassigned from the park or left.

It is also difficult to enforce the park’s midnight closing time, Jackson said. Movable French gate-style metal barriers are placed at the park’s entrances at night; but once these are moved by one person, then others can walk inside, either knowingly breaking the rules or just not realizing that the park is closed.

The result is there are “lots” of people entering the park after it’s closed, Jackson said. Some of these people are sleeping in the park but others are involved in drug activity, he noted. Police recently caught three people smoking crack in the park at 3 a.m., he noted.

Activity in the northwest corner of the park, above, continues to be a problem. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

There was discussion at the meeting of adding permanent gates for better enforcement of closing times. While a low gate wouldn’t prevent people from entering the park, it would be a clearer indication that the park is closed, the detective said.

There was debate over more enforcement of the park’s closing time. A woman living nearby said that stricter enforcement would help reduce noise issues. Another person said if the rule is to close the park at midnight, then that should be enforced.

But one local said strict enforcement would just push people to the side streets and they would then hang out near his house. And some said that, as long as violent crime isn’t a problem, putting up gates would go against the park’s free-spirit character. Yet another at the C.B. 2 meeting proposed the park should stay open 24 hours.

Police noted there could be a danger, however, for an unsuspecting person who walks into the park late at night without realizing that it’s closed.

A resolution was unanimously passed at the meeting, requesting that a portion of PEP officers assigned to the park be trained and certified on how to take decibel readings of noise levels. The resolution also requested that PEP officers be given longer-term assignments at Washington Square Park, to let them establish relationships with park denizens for better enforcement of park rules. The full board of C.B. 2 subsequently approved the committees’ resolution.