Locals have taken the matter of increasing security in Morningside Park into their own hands after Borough President Scott Stringer approved a two-year-old grant earlier this summer.
The $40,000 grant requested by Friends of Morningside Park—a volunteer resident coalition dedicated to the park’s preservation and improvement—will be used to purchase three or four cameras, which will be installed by the summer of 2014. While the cameras will be funded through the grant, the Parks Department will ultimately manage them.
Two shootings that occurred in June 2011, one in the basketball courts and one on the east side of Morningside Avenue, ignited the movement to install the cameras. The grant was approved on June 27, 2013, two years after the shootings occurred.
Heavy incidence of crime is “sort of a historical anomaly at this point,” Friends of Morningside Park President Brad Taylor said. “It’s not the problem it used to be.”
But public outcry in response to the shootings prompted locals to bring up the issue at a community meeting in July 2011. It was there that Stringer pledged to fund the installation of one camera. Although Stringer’s promise of installing the camera was not realized, Friends of Morningside Park fundraised through the fall to purchase the camera, which was installed in May 2012.
The new cameras, like the one already installed, will have two lenses facing in opposite directions, encased in a box and powered by solar panels. They will record continuously and footage will be deleted weekly, but there won’t be people watching the video feed at all times. Motion sensors will turn on spotlights at night when the park is closed.
The existing camera monitors the playground area near 116th Street. One of the new cameras will monitor the basketball courts, but the locations of the others have yet to be decided.
In addition to helping police solve any crimes which do occur, “part of it is just to be a deterrent,” Taylor said.
Columbia Public Safety also maintains two security cameras along Morningside Drive. While the Columbia cameras don’t point into the park, Taylor said they’ve helped police investigate past muggings along Morningside Drive.
Responses to the proposed installations were lukewarm.
Juana Rodrigues, whose kids play in the park after school, said in Spanish that “it would be better” if there were cameras installed.
“It will help, to an extent, but not all the way,” Taisha Jones, who frequents the park five days a week, said. “They don’t detect everything.”
Tod Korris walks through the park several times a day but said he avoids it after 9 p.m.
“Does it make me feel much more safe? Not really,” he said of the proposed cameras. Still, he said they are “not a bad measure if something did happen.”
Taylor said there is still much more to be finalized before the cameras go up. Contractors have yet to respond with an estimated price, which would determine how many cameras are able to be installed. The grant will also be in the form of a reimbursement—meaning that Friends of Morningside Park will have to come up with the $40,000 to purchase the cameras first—which Taylor said could complicate the process.
“We’ve got to figure out how we get reimbursed, so it’ll be a while before that’s sorted out,” Taylor said. “Forty thousand dollars is a large amount for us ... and the way these grants typically work is you don’t get paid in front. And getting it upfront for our organization, that’s a big deal for us.”