NYPD to Surveil Washington Square Park Visitors in Real Time From Within the Park

soon_to_be_nypd_washington_square_park

Updated February 10th, 11:13 a.m. building_washington_square_park_to_house_nypd_1
Early last year, this blog was tipped off that the soon-to-open building in Washington Square Park, home to the Parks Department district offices and restrooms for the park, was set to also harbor … the New York City Police Department. This had never been discussed over years of meetings about the park’s controversial redesign but, in March 2014, Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson confirmed that there had been “conversations” regarding the NYPD moving into the new building.

Where those conversations went was established last week: NYPD’s future post within Washington Square Park is set to proceed. Last week, Neilson told the Community Board 2 Parks Committee that the NYPD would be “using a room in the park house” for “monitoring videos.” She stated that this “is in motion right now” and “They’ll be in there doing the same thing [they did in trailer on Washington Square South].”

Except that is not quite accurate.

NYPD CURRENTLY HAS TRAILER OUTSIDE PARK ON WASHINGTON SQUARE SOUTH

It is true that the NYPD has had a trailer outside of the park along Washington Square South since some point in the 1980s (UPD/Ed. note: Date is a bit unclear. It may have been later than this). There are a zillion wires poking out of it and crawling high above along tree limbs which lead to the surveillance cameras in the park. (See photos below.) At a Community Board meeting in 2010, it was revealed that, with the park’s redesign, there would be “9 security cameras and devices” around the park including four within (there may be more now).

NYPD trailer
NYPD “trailer” on Washington Sq South

The NYPD “trailer” has, for years, appeared largely nonoperational. It was said to contain video equipment to monitor surveillance cameras but rarely has it been seen in use. In addition, when in use, the video was not live, it was taped and (could be) reviewed later (which would sync up with why no one was ever in there!).

This is quite different from what the NYPD and the New York City Parks Department have planned for the “park house.”

Update: “Trailer” may be operational now and according to one report in real time now. (Not confirmed.)

NYPD WILL BE WATCHING IN REAL TIME — PARKS SURVEILLANCE “CAMERAS AND DEVICES” CONTAIN FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY

It is one thing to have a New York City Police Department presence outside of a city park, another to have them inside a city park, and a relatively small city park. The park itself is already heavily surveilled – which is creepy enough – but soon it will be NYPD watching in real time.

In 2012 at The Guardian, Naomi Wolf wrote in “The new totalitarianism of surveillance technology,” that the cameras at Washington Square Park and other parks were “enabled for facial recognition technology, which allows police to watch video that is tagged to individuals, in real time.”

just some security cameras
just some security cameras

NYPD POSTS ARE RARE IN NEW YORK CITY PARKS

Parks in New York City that have NYPD actual posts within them are rare. Central Park at 843 acres has its own police precinct (also the oldest police precinct in NYC). Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens at one point had its own police patrol but this is also a 1,255 acre park. Prospect Park has an NYPD “Command Center.” The Brooklyn park’s size? 585 acres.

Washington Square Park’s size?

Somewhere around 9.75 acres.

I understand the Bloomberg Administration was always trying to crack down on that free wheelin spirit at the Village park – with its “symmetrical,” overly aligned redesign and every last thing it put into play – but we have a new Mayor now, no?

Schematic of building originally presented
Schematic of building originally presented – minus notes in blue

PLANS NEVER DISCLOSED BY BLOOMBERG ADMIN PARKS OFFICIALS DURING NUMEROUS MEETINGS

The building was obviously designed – from the start – to house the NYPD and yet this (conveniently?) never was disclosed by Parks Department officials. Many meetings occurred during the Bloomberg years at which the proposed building and design were discussed with Parks Department officials coming before Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to present the plans.

The “park house” building (rumored to cost over $4 million) was part of the Bloomberg Administration’s contentious redesign of Washington Square Park. Construction was finally completed and it opened last year as part of Phase III of the six year long, $37+ million construction project.

WILL THERE BE JAIL-STYLE “HOLDING CELLS” WITHIN?

The person who first informed me about the New York City Police Department presence in the new building – and this source was correct – also asserted that there would be “holding cells” — as in jail cells — within. In fact, it was a question about the holding cells by this blog at the meeting in March 2014 that caused Neilson, who works for the city’s Parks Department, to even mention the “conversations” with NYPD to have space in the structure. At that time, Neilson said she “would be very surprised” if there were cells and sort of laughed it off (but didn’t say no). The location of the NYPD post is supposedly set to be between the women’s and men’s rooms in the center of the building.

CRIME NOT AN ISSUE AT WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK BUT APPARENTLY SURVEILLANCE IS | PLANNED LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

The NYPD has stated that crime is not an issue in Washington Square Park. 

Yes, there have been efforts to curtail marijuana dealers but that does not require an actual NYPD post in the park.

Why didn’t the NYPD attend previous meetings and inform the community about this? Why do they need this? What exactly will they be doing?

Should this not be open for review and discussion instead of hidden for years and then presented as a fait accompli?

According to WSP Adminstrator Neilson, an MOU (memorandum of understanding) is being prepared by the Parks Department for NYPD use of the building. She added, “If you have any questions about [what they will be doing], you will have to ask them.”

with a zillion cables in a tree...
a zillion cables from surveillance cameras in a tree…

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Washington Square Park’s Long Delayed, Soon-to-Open New Bathroom Building to House the NYPD? March 10, 2014

The NYPD will be watching YOU at Washington Square Park April 5, 2010

nypd_washington_square_south_2Photos: Cathryn