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Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition Steering Committee No plan, no funding, no increase in park police

November 20, 2018

On Oct. 24 Stamford Mayor David Martin announced that the Stamford Police Department (SPD) is instituting a Parks Enforcement Unit and said “he has listened to residents’ concerns.”

Just one major problem: He also stated that “the success of this program is based on available funding.” City departments are in the midst of preparing their proposed 2019-2020 budgets. Hold that thought.

We are not currently aware of any additional funding in the Parks and Facilities Department’s proposed budget to hire more part-time park police, so the only available funding would be from the SPD’s overtime budget. Why should taxpayers have to pay full-time, full-benefit SPD overtime to take these assignments? What happens when the overtime budget is depleted? Will this be an excuse to request contingency funds that will not be available due to other emergency needs (mold in our schools, etc.)? Lack of funding will end the availability of additional officers in our parks. There is no guarantee of funding.

As we looked more closely at the description of the new Parks Enforcement Unit, other serious concerns left us wondering: What is really changing?

First, this new unit will be comprised of two existing park police officers and “uniform patrol officers.” Importantly, all police officers wear the same uniform, have the same training and have the same authority. Park police belong to a different union.

Additionally, it was mentioned that “several” SPD officers will be “detailed during the peak park usage months beginning April 1 through Oct. 1, 2019.” It’s peak usage because of warmer weather and longer days. The statistics show that this is also the peak for criminal activity and other citywide emergencies. When such high-priority incidents occur, where will these “detailed” officers be? Back on the streets, as you would expect.

The mayor cannot guarantee an exact number because the SPD contract requires that a certain number of officers must be available for street patrol at any given time. So where will these “several” SPD Officers be detailed when there is a shortage in the patrol division due to the aforementioned emergencies — as well as upcoming retirements, officers taking vacation, sick, injured-on-duty, and personal leave, officers out for training, etc.? Again, there is guaranteed increase in dedicated park police.

Under the mayor’s plan, additional officers will be available only during the peak park-usage months. How about the rest of the year? We only have two remaining park police officers whose number-one priority is our parks and, as noted in the Parks and Recreation policy, “public safety within the parks is enhanced when park police are present to interact with the individuals of the community and address any quality of life or regulatory issues that arise before they escalate into criminal activity.” These two officers currently work part-time Friday-through-Sunday shifts. Between Monday and Thursday there are no dedicated park police officers in our parks.

SPD has used “programmed patrols” for many years. Here, an officer will drive through (or remain briefly in) a park, and these patrols will continue. They are helpful, but anyone with ill intent needs only to wait for the officer on programmed patrol to leave the park. Criminal activity and other breaches of park regulations (such as drug dealing, loud noise, speeding, vandalism, lewd behavior, abuse of wildlife, etc.) occur year-round, not just during the times of these brief “programmed patrols.”

Finally, history informs us that specialty units exist at the pleasure of the mayor and/or the chief of police and can easily be reassigned or disbanded.

Mayor Martin has not listened to the concerns of more than 1,000 petitioners and those who spoke at public hearings representing neighborhoods citywide. As thousands of residents and visitors continue to come to our parks, we see no change in how the mayor views public safety and the quality of life in them. If he had listened we would not be presented with this “solution” that has no detailed plan, no guaranteed increase in dedicated park police, and no funding.

Mike Battinelli and Steve Garst submitted this on behalf of the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition Steering Committee.

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