“Look,” says Vlee, a Forest Hills resident, pointing to poster pasted to a lamppost that shows a sketch of a suspected serial attacker. “Security would be very helpful because I run and like to hike.”
More security will come to Forest Park in Woodhaven, with the expected installation of seven camera units—a total of 14 cameras—in the more than 500-acre park. Assemblyman Mike Miller and State Senator Joseph Addabbo secured $250,000 in state funding to install the cameras in response to recent attacks in the park, including an August 26th rape of an elderly jogger.
“The cameras would be a good deterrent for crime, all types of crime,” says Miller. “God forbid something should happen, these are excellent cameras that should be able to pick up the comings and goings.”
Miller says he hopes to decide on the camera locations and have them installed by the end of spring, but noted that the timeline is not entirely within his control.
Miller and Addabbo must work with the Department of Parks and Recreation and Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandoski to figure out where the cameras will be most effective in deterring or catching offenders.
They will then submit those plans for approval and go into contract with the state Dormitory Authority. The NYPD will operate and monitor the system once the cameras are up and running.
Miller says the cameras will not replace mounted patrols or police presence, but will step up overall safety in the park.
“The Police Department works very hard, they’re the hardest working people out there,” Miller says. “[Precinct] 102 is overburdened, but they keep the park and what happened a priority.”
Ed Wendell, the outgoing president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, says he welcomes the cameras in Forest Park. “Obviously, it’s good news,” he said. “Every additional measure of safety is a good thing.”
Wendell says many are still concerned about the serial attacks, and fellow residents have questioned the city’s responsiveness to safety issues there in the past. “I want to see them in place, I want to see them go in,” Wendell said. “In other words, I’m happy they’ve made this announcement, but I’ll be truly happy when I see the cameras.”
But Wendell also points out that Forest Park spans more than 500 acres—there are wooded trails with little foot traffic, and roads closed off to cars. “You can’t cover everything,” he admits, though he says even if the seven camera units can’t catch every crime in progress, they can monitor the people who are passing through, helping police target suspected lawbreakers.
Ana Ortiz and Douglas Rodriguez, a couple who live near Forest Park, visit everyday. Ortiz and Rodriguez were walking their dogs Saturday, two big, gray pit bulls each straining at the end of a leash. Rodriguez says he thinks cameras are a good idea, at least to discover crimes.
“I don’t know if it will prevent it, but help catch it,” he said.
But both say they don’t think 14 cameras will be enough to cover the entire park. “That’s it?” Ortiz asks. “I think if they’re only going to put 14 in, they shouldn’t put none at all.”
Then again, they have their own security. “Walking these guys, people are scared,” Rodriguez says, nodding to the pit bulls. “But,” he adds, “if she’s [Ortiz] walking late at night by herself, then she’s scared.”
Near the playground, Tatsiana Dyerman walks with her five-year-old daughter. “I don’t care if someone’s watching me,” she said. A Rego Park resident, she also wonders if this number of cameras will be enough for such a big park. “At least it’s something,” she shrugs.
Fiddling with her iPod after her jog, Jamaica resident Liz Sazo says she gets the concern. Once it’s known that cameras are there, park safety could improve, but never be perfect, she says. “As a female runner I err on the side of caution, regardless of what’s really around,” she said.
Cathy Lazauskas and Javier Martinez sit at picnic table with chipping red paint. “This is our park,” Martinez says standing up, and he means it. He just proposed to Lazauskas just a few minutes before—right in this very spot.
Lazauskas, whose ring finger is now weighted down by a string of diamonds, says they never really thought about security cameras before.
“If it helps, it’s a start,” Martinez adds.
Both say they still think patrolling would be more effective, though they rarely see cops within Forest Park, just on the boundaries. They usually feel safe, but the recent incidents, including the rape of the jogger—and now the announcement that cameras will be installed—is a wake up call.
“It’s weird to hear that,” Lazauskas says.
“It makes you think. You get worried a little bit,” Martinez says of Forest Park. “But then you go in and enjoy yourself.”