Pier Police to Get Sensitivity Training

Hudson River Park Trust acknowledges its officers can sometimes be overzealous

Park Enforcement Patrol officers in the Hudson River Park will receive supplemental training to equip them to deal with specific conditions and complaints of park users that have arisen in the five-mile-long park in the two years since it opened.

Peace officers with police powers, though unarmed, PEPs are drawn from the city Parks Department and work under contract with the Hudson River Park Trust, a state-city authority that administers the riverfront land. Their enforcement has on occasion generated complaints of heavy-handedness from LGBT park users, dog owners, and, in one case, political petition gatherers.

In May, Paul Gerena, a Manhattan massage therapist, told Gay City News that he witnessed two incidents in one day in which PEP officers intervened to stop gay men from engaging in affectionate behavior in the park near Christopher Street’s Pier 45. He said that a PEP officer told one of the gay men, “You can’t touch this guy. It’s not allowed.”

At the time, the city was very sensitive to such complaints. A call to the Parks Department was returned by Anthony W. Crowell, special counsel to Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He said, “I think the most important thing is that it is the policy of the city of New York to allow people to express themselves in an affectionate manner, holding hands, kissing, hugging, whatever that may be, so long as it doesn’t cross the line and become sexual activity prohibited by parks’ rules.”

He noted that in the one case with which he was familiar, one man was “fondling the nipples” of another man. The officer “thought it fell within the prohibition for disorderly behavior and, after observing it, he just asked them to refrain from doing so,” Crowell explained.

At the Trust’s December 1 board meeting, Jim Koth, vice president of maintenance and operations, said that the PEPs who are assigned to patrol Hudson River Park will now receive an additional 16 hours of training in addition to the eight-to-10-week course they take at the Park Enforcement Academy. Koth said eight PEPs newly graduated from the academy are receiving the special training on interacting with Hudson River Park users. The areas include conflict resolution; professionalism; sensitivity; courtesy; gang awareness; terrorism awareness; handling of suspicious packages; water rescues; and operation of auto vehicles, Segway scooters, and bicycles.

The issue of complaints by gay park users was not addressed at the Trust meeting. Later, Chris Martin, a Trust spokesperson, said that any specific training relating to treatment of gay park users would be handled under general sensitivity training, which concerns dealing with people “from different beliefs and walks of life.”

The Trust meeting did, however, deal extensively with issues related to dogs in the park. Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, a Trust board member, asked if PEPs would be instructed specifically on improving interactions with dog walkers.

“The issue of dog walkers and dog owners should be treated as a category—not under two or three [general] categories,” offered Trip Dorkey, the board’s chairperson, who suggested that there be a “seminar” for the PEPs devoted to dog walker issues.

Koth said dog issues are “a compendium of a few areas—including sensitivity training,” but did not say whether the officers would receive specialized training regarding canine oversight.

Madelyn Wils, another board member, recalled her own experience when a PEP had spoken to her “harshly” when her dog strayed onto a park lawn.

“When someone barks out an order—I had that happen to me when I had a dog,” she said. “It was not appropriate.” PEPs “should treat park users like their clients,” she said.

Joseph Rose, a City Planning Commission member, said that PEPs should be trained not to be “overzealous about minor things.”