Increased Crime in City Parks Places Van Cortlandt Under Scrutiny

by JOSEPH LIGGIO, Staff Writer

Data published by the NYPD indicated a rise in crime rates throughout numerous public parks in the Bronx over the past few weeks.

Crotona and Claremont Park, both south of the Fordham section of the borough, currently top the list as having the highest number of reported crimes for the first half of 2016.

Van Cortlandt Park is currently on pace to break its numbers from last year, with nine reported crimes throughout 2015, compared to nine more in the first six months of 2016 alone, typically cases of robbery, grand larceny or felony assault.

In particular, three park-goers were shot after an argument broke out at a barbeque this past May, an incident that received widespread media coverage and further highlighted potential risks for visitors.

This recent report raises questions concerning the safety of a park heavily trafficked by both Manhattan students and faculty alike.

Sisters Caitlin and Brianna Armstrong, both freshmen at Manhattan College and lifelong residents of Riverdale, have made countless trips to Van Cortlandt over the years. They have frequented the park at least once or twice a week on average since arriving on campus as students; both typically walk to Van Cortlandt to run and occasionally to work out or play soccer, yet they still express concern for crime and their own personal safety while they’re in the park.

“A lot of [activity] goes down” said Caitlin, who admitted that she has ran in the park alone in the past, despite feeling unsafe while doing so. “I’ve seen and almost stepped on needles that aren’t covered, and I’ll be running on a trail towards the back [of the park] and there’ll be groups of men just huddled up doing sketchy stuff.”

Brianna agreed, adding “I remember hearing about someone who got stabbed in Van Cortlandt Park, and I never feel safe to go alone there, like I always go with someone. One time I was running and it got really dark and it was very sketchy, there’s a lot of groups of people there that I would not assume to be very nice people.” Both plan on avoiding certain trails in favor of more visible, open areas, and frequenting the area at an earlier time of day after hearing of the report.

City Councilman Andrew Cohen, who represents New York’s 11th District including Riverdale, was quoted in July as saying that despite some “high-profile crimes” Van Cortlandt remains “overwhelmingly safe,” and that an all-terrain vehicle had recently been purchased for use by the NYPD’s local 50th Police Precinct to step up patrols within the park.

Cohen has also worked as a board member for Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, an organization dedicated to the conservation and improvement of the third largest park in New York City. Christina Taylor, the Executive Director of the group, also maintained that the area is “very safe.”

“Unfortunately, crime does happen but I don’t believe that a crime is any more likely to happen within Van Cortlandt Park than it is anywhere else within the city,” said Taylor. “It is important that people remember to follow park rules and stay out of the park when it is closed as the decrease in enforcement and other people around during those times does increase the chance of a crime occurring.”