Community stakeholders are demanding the city Parks Department lock up Williamsbridge Oval Park at night to increase safety and quell fears from parents alarmed by a recent gang-related stabbing inside the park.
The incident occurred Aug. 30, in the park’s tunnel entrance by Van Cortlandt Avenue East and Reservoir Oval East just as a movie screening wrapped up inside the park.
“It used to be during the springtime,” said Sarah Bishow, the Oval’s recreation center’s director, speaking at a meeting on Sept. 19 addressing the park’s safety. “And now it’s just fights happening outside, but we’re seeing it more often now.”
Officers from the 52nd Precinct blamed much of the violence on the so-called “G-Side Gang,” known to cause outbursts and fights at the park. Many of the gang members are between the ages of 11 and 19, said Officer Michelle Brown of the precinct’s Neighborhood Coordination Officer program.
“Anybody who is not G-Side is not allowed in the park. That’s in simple terms,” Brown said. “They have drama with people on the other side of Jerome [Avenue]. They have drama with people from the 34th Precinct, which is in Washington Heights.”
Sheila Sanchez, president of Friends of Williamsbridge Oval Park, said installing security cameras in and around the park, particularly in the tunnel at the Reservoir Oval East entrance, would help catch offenders.
“We are accumulating crime,” said Sanchez. “We don’t need more crimes. With the cameras, we can get better.”
Iris White, a daycare center employee, comes to the Oval because it is convenient. She was not aware of the stabbing at the Oval.
“It’s normally pretty safe,” White said. “But security cameras would be great. Safety is the best interest of everybody.”
But installing security cameras may be upwards of two to three thousand dollars, according to Tony Rosa, maintenance and operations manager for parks falling within Community Board 7, which covers the park. The recreation center would have to consider additional funding and that may take up to three years to happen.
Having the cameras in the park also raises concerns of privacy. Sanchez said Councilman Andrew Cohen was worried about violating the privacy of his constituents.
Hearing about the stabbing didn’t put fear into local resident and parent Kylie Vidal. Vidal said she came to the park when she was little and now brings her own kids here. Vidal thought having park staff posted throughout the area to watch entrances might be helpful.
“I don’t see security cameras or police presence stopping people from doing what they want to do,” Vidal said. “For the most part, this is a relatively safe park.”
Sanchez suggested closing the playground and basketball court at night as the quickest solution. She said the recreation center should ask Councilman Cohen for funding to repair the historic gates around the park to at least seal the area from nighttime intruders.
“In response to safety concerns, New York City Parks Enforcement Patrol and the NYPD have been providing extra coverage within Williamsbridge Oval Park,” said the Parks Department in a statement. “We will continue to work with the community to address concerns at the park.”