Parks Department Social Distancing Effort Show Mixed Compliance

African girl at park wearing medical masks protect from infections and diseases coronavirus virus quarantine.

New datasets released by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) show results on the targeted effort to maintain social distancing within the City’s vast network of open space between March 25 and July 8.

Various staff categories consisting of special Social Distancing Ambassadors, Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers, Urban Park Rangers and Maintenance and Operations (M&O) staff were tasked to educate park visitors on maintaining social distancing. 

While Social Distancing Ambassadors, Urban Park Rangers and PEP officers had decent success with over 80% compliance rates at over 37,400 total patrols, M&O staff didn’t have the same luck. 

Out of 999 total times Park’s Maintenance and Operation Staff approached a crowd, the employees were simply ignored 657 times – or 65%.

The Parks department noted these employees were primarily tasked with maintaining greenspace and that their efforts only represented a small portion of those of the department at large. 

“Our multi-faceted social distancing program has been successful – we generally have observed New Yorkers complying with City and State mandated social distancing guidelines,” wrote Parks spokesperson Dan Kastanis in an emailed statement.

While compliance with non-M&O staff has generally been high, there have nevertheless been instances of the contrary. PEP officers had to request NYPD help 178 times and a total of 235 summonses were issued. 

The new normal in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. Photo by Kenny Post

Some of the worst offenses included Pelham Bay Park on March 27, where a crowd of 1,500 ignored M&O employees, two days after a person tweeted a picture of people in that park ignoring guidelines. Another bad apple was a crowd of 1,500 in Fort Washington Park on May 24 which refused to comply after being approached by PEP officers.

Positive examples of compliance included Soundview Park in The Bronx and Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx as well as Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens where over 1,000 patrons complied after approached for social distancing by Parks employees.

In Brooklyn, the Coney Island Boardwalk saw some noncompliance. In one instance, an estimated crowd of 500 ignored M&O employees. Another example was an instance in Marine Park in which a group of 60 refused to comply with Social Distancing Ambassadors.

More positive local examples were St. John’s Park in Crown Heights and the WNYC Transmitter Park in Greenpoint, where groups of over 180 listened to Ambassadors.

While New York City and its park space has begun to reopen, Parks says their staff will continue to seek social distancing compliance.

“To engage the public on social distancing, our Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, Urban Park Rangers, Maintenance and Operations staff—a small subset of the overall program—and dedicated team of Social Distancing Ambassadors continue to staff our parks and beaches,” said Kastanis. 

The data is publicly available on the City’s OpenData website.

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