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Critics Call Nostrand Playground a Haven For Dealers & Drunks

The Nostrand Avenue playground has become a playground for peddlers hawking loose cigarettes, drug dealers and drunks sipping from open malt-liquor cans. Try to find a child playing on a swing or climbing a jungle gym, and there won’t be one in sight. And the community has had enough. The Community Action Project, which represents a number of churches and secular leaders, has called on the 67th Precinct to make a long-term commitment to dealing with the problem. And the police responded in strength. Some 60 Impact Zone police officers from the 67th Precinct ringed the basement of the St. Jerome R.C. Church, 1900 Newkirk Ave. on Jan. 25. “If you want to know why you are surrounded by cops right now, there is a reason for it,” Commanding Officer Inspector Robert Boyce told the assembled community. “These are my impact cops and they are here to show you our commitment at the 67th Precinct.” Many of these same officers have been flooding Nostrand Playground, at the corner of Foster and Nostrand avenues, on foot patrols daily between 11 a.m. and 3 a.m. “The park is important to us,” said Boyce. “So important in fact, that we have had Impact Zones there for the last three years. And we are back again.” Most agree things have improved whenever there is a strong police presence. “An Impact Zone always changes the criminal activity dramatically — when it comes in effect,” said Johnny Kline, a spokesperson for CAP. But things get rapidly worse again once they leave, and the area may lose its Impact Zone designation around April. For years now, parents have refused to take their children to the playground Kline says that the park has such a poor reputation that even when the police clear out the criminal elements, parents don’t feel comfortable bringing their kids there to play. “To change the culture dramatically and turn it into a family park, it will take many months of consistent hard work with the police, law enforcement and community,” said Kline. “I don’t think we are there yet.” Luisa Jimenez, who is on the board of directors on CAP, and a great-grandmother of three, who lives just four blocks from Nostrand playground, is one of those who do not feel comfortable taking kids to the playground. “When I want to take children to a playground I go to the Parade Ground, which is 20 blocks from my house,” said Jimenez. “I don’t let my children play in this park, because I don’t believe it is healthy for them when I see people drinking, and I see other things.” “We want the Nostrand playground to be a gathering place for children as it was intended,” Jimenez said. Losing this resource has a particularly harsh impact in a neighborhood with at least four nearby child-laden institutions including P.S. 269 at 1957 Nostrand Ave., St. Jerome R.C. Church and School at Nostrand and Newkirk avenues, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church and School at East 28th Street and Newkirk Avenue, and the Flatbush Gardens complex at Newkirk and Nostrand avenues. All these institutions joined CAP to protest the lawlessness at the park. They are also concerned about the west side of Nostrand Avenue, between Foster and Newkirk avenues. Representatives from CAP asked whether Boyce would commit in writing resources to reduce crime and make the Nostrand Park area safer for families and cut lawlessness generally at the intersection of Nostrand and Foster avenues. While giving a verbal nod, he refused to sign his name to those commitments in public, saying that only the police commissioner has such authority. “I have no problem committing my resources to them, but I am going to tell you right now, I can’t sign anything,” said Boyce. “It’s not department policy. It has to go through the police commissioner’s office.” Kline said that while disappointed that the commanding officer was unable to make his commitment on paper, he understood the constraints under which the police work. “We would have preferred that he would have signed, but as he said there is a policy in the department not to sign,” said Kline, after the meeting. “We are taking him at his word, and he agreed verbally to everything we had asked and we are very pleased with that.” A concerned parent and active CAP member, who waits to pick up her son from school near Nostrand and Foster avenues daily, says she regularly witnesses the sale of loose cigarettes. Whenever her son asks to play there, she has to say ‘no.’ The assistant principal of P.S. 269, Glendolyn Coppin, said that teachers have to prevent kids from going through the park because it is “extremely dangerous.” “The kids are really suffering,” said Coppin. Boyce said that through working with the community, progress had been made over recent years. “We understand that there are still problems,” said Boyce. “But we have come a long way in 12 years with crime reductions.” Boyce also said that their strategy for tackling bigger crime includes arresting people for petty crimes. “Some of those who are arrogant enough to smoke marijuana in public, urinate, and drink beer are the same ones that are doing robberies, burglaries, felony assaults and other crimes as well,” said Boyce. But he warned that fighting crime is a never-ending battle. “Crime is like a water balloon. Squeeze it at one end and it comes out the other,” said Boyce. But he says that he demonstrated his commitment to fighting crime during his 23 years of service in the NYPD, and to the precinct over the last three-and-a half years.

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