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By Frank Quinn

At the February NYPD Community Council meeting, Captain Stephen Spataro of the 6th precinct announced that a new detail of officers would address problematic conditions at Washington Square Park. But against the expectation that police will restore order looms an uneasy truce between competing park users. 

While many law-abiding able-bodied users enjoy the excitement of the unregulated public square, others find the park unusable. Vibrant artistic expression in the age of social media makes the iconic park especially attractive to musicians, skateboarders, and others, but the elderly and very young cannot compete with rampant drug use and aggressive bike riders and skaters who intimidate them and disregard their safety.

It is unrealistic to expect police to solve this dilemma without support from elected officials, the Parks Department, and Community Board 2. Unfortunately, these actors have been ineffective at coordinating their activities.

As by this contributor, our local elected officials were unsupportive of police during a prior park action requested by the community. In September, 2020, while addressing noisy late-night events, police stated that some aggressive park users announced their intent to “take over the 6th precinct” to retrieve DJ equipment confiscated from them. When the group assembled on Hudson and West 10th Streets, police felt they had no choice but to clear the intersection after asking the protesters to disperse, all of which was documented on bystander recordings. Senator Brad Holyman and Assembly member Deborah Glick issued a joint statement calling the police activity “a disturbing escalation of force which was unwarranted and unacceptable.” This did not becalm the matter.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON in Washington Square Park. Photo by Frank Quinn.

WestView News contributor Sophia Astor wrote in March about the skateboarding community and its sincere interest to responsibly use the park with others. And Captain Spataro asserted that police are open to new ideas. If there is a way for competing park users to successfully commingle it will require new ideas and a willingness to try them, or conditions in the park may continue to be unpredictable.

The typical government response is binary—unambiguous rules are either enforced or not (i.e. when the cops don’t stop them, the skaters will skate). But just as the unambiguous prohibition of any amplified sound is simple to enforce, it yields uneven and often undesirable results.

Can the Parks Department work to establish times and places where skaters can skate? Can the police be given sufficient discretion over enforcement without losing public confidence? And can our elected officials find ways to effectively support these efforts?

The regularly scheduled 6th Precinct Community Council meetings are valuable forums to coordinate this work, and our elected officials should make a concerted effort to consistently attend.

Frank Quinn is a media executive,

parent and musician.

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