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Cops Seize Brooklyn Playground — Again — For Private Parking Lot, Threaten to Arrest Reporter for Trespassing 

12:01 AM EST on November 6, 2020

Cops from the 88th Precinct have again seized space in Classon Playground for private car storage. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Cops are again seizing a Brooklyn playground to park their private vehicles and squad cars, enraging locals and safe-street advocates who fought to have them booted from the neighborhood park earlier this year — and getting aggressive when challenged about their public space theft.

Police from the 88th Precinct began parking the cars they drive to work — many from outside the five boroughs — on the blacktop of Classon Playground in early June, during the nationwide protests that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

At the time, the Parks Department told Streetsblog that it had given cops permission to use the park, but promised to evict New York's "Finest" from the public playground by the end of the month. For several months, cops did, in fact, go back to parking their private vehicles in their usual, albeit still illegal, spots on the sidewalk and in the bike lane — temporarily vacating the park until this week.

"The 88th Precinct in Brooklyn is illegally commandeering classon playground. AGAIN. The people of the community deserve a safe space to play/convene/exercise/social distance freely, we are still in the middle of a pandemic!" Clinton Hill resident Samantha Fikilini wrote on Twitter on Nov. 4.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department told Streetsblog that the agency did, indeed, grant cops permission to use what should remain public space on an "as needed" basis.

“Since the summer, we have extended support to the NYPD as they manage protest activity in Brooklyn and have allowed them to park vehicles at some of our sites as needed,” spokeswoman Crystal Howard said.

Howard declined to say this time when the police officers' personal vehicles will be removed from a space long set aside for recreation of children in the neighborhood, which, according to Census figures, is majority Black, Latino and Asian.

Streetsblog visited the playground-cum-parking lot on Thursday afternoon, and an officer from the 88th Precinct threatened to arrest this reporter for “trespassing.” And another officer accused this reporter of "acting suspicious" while walking near all of the multi-ton cages of metal.

"Are you here to utilize the park? You know these are NYPD police vehicles and if you're here just hanging around our cars you're acting very suspicious, I'll deem you as acting suspicious," said Officer Henry, while pointing to mostly private vehicles. "These are NYPD marked vehicles. You're hanging around, just lurking around our cars, I'm going to deem you as acting suspicious." (Eventually, another officer took the reporter's business card and promised to give it to the commanding officer, who has yet to call back to comment.)

Commandeering even more space around station houses became a general practice of the NYPD throughout the summer, and into the fall, as precincts seized scores of streets and sidewalks around them during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Cops at the 79th Precinct seized Tompkins Avenue over the summer. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Cops at the 79th Precinct seized Tompkins Avenue over the summer. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Specifically, police said they needed to use Classon playground as a parking lot to protect their vehicles because protesters had put spikes under tires. 

But what actually needs protection are the pedestrians and cyclists around which cops drive — police from the 88th Precinct have a history of driving recklessly. Of the 43 non-official NYPD cars parked on the playground, 33 have received at least one speeding or red light ticket, with 26 receiving multiple dangerous moving violation tickets, according to Hows My DrivingThe worst offenders were:

    • One cop’s car with 19 tickets for speeding in a school zone, and four for going through a red light.
    • One cop’s car with 11 tickets for speeding in a school zone since 2019.
    • A third with nine school zones and one red light. That cop's car had a "War on Terror" vanity license plate reading "Free4A," a possible reference to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the public freedom from unreasonable searches by police.

When Streetsblog did its award-nominated "S-cop-laws" series on reckless police driving last year, 54.5 percent of the vehicles parked illegally or in police-only spots at the 88th Precinct had been slapped at least twice with camera-issued tickets for the most serious reckless offenses of speeding or running a red light.

As a result of that series, Mayor de Blasio promised to crack down on recklessly driving cops by taking away their parking privileges. But that promise more or less evaporated when de Blasio allowed the NYPD to set the standards for what constituted reckless driving.

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