BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Drug pushers’ free dealing and skateboarders’ freewheeling days in Washington Square Park could be numbered.
Skateboarding obviously isn’t a crime, like drug dealing, but it’s not allowed in the park. And, to many locals, it’s a quality-of-life nuisance that keeps people from peacefully and safely enjoying the square.
Meanwhile, residents living along the west side of the park have, for a number of years now, complained about rampant drug dealing going on in that area, including in the park’s northwest corner.
Captain Stephen Spataro, the new commanding officer of Greenwich Village’s Sixth Precinct, told The Village Sun that he is assigning two officers to the park full time to address drug dealing, along with skateboarding and bicycling in the park, which is also illegal.
“They’re excellent,” Spataro said. “They’re two of my proactive, younger officers.”
He said these two cops will work with the precinct’s neighborhood coordinating officers, or N.C.O.’s, whose sector includes the park, as well as with the Parks Department’s Park Enforcement Patrol, or PEP, officers.
Drug dealing in Washington Square obviously is not something new.
“It’s a multigenerational problem,” the C.O. noted. “It goes back decades.”
As for the skateboarders, Spataro said there won’t be a hard crackdown immediately, but that police will convey the message that skating in the park is not allowed.
“We’re working on that,” he said, “starting with education.”
Feelings about the skateboarders in the park are mixed on Community Board 2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee. At their January meeting, one member, Susanna Aaron, proposed that part of the landmarked park be carved out for skateboarders’ use or that there be evening skateboarding hours. The committee’s chairperson, Rich Caccappolo, though, said he supports the skateboarding ban for safety reasons. Will Morrison, the park’s deputy administrator, told the meeting he supports building a skate park for the skateboarders — but elsewhere.
“I would really support a skate park being built in the neighborhood,” he added. “They need a place to skate.”
Amplified music is yet another issue, though it wasn’t among those that Spataro mentioned right off the bat that the two police officers would be focusing on.
Last summer saw an explosion in Washington Square Park of amplified music, which is not allowed without a city-issued sound permit. However, responding to local residents’ complaints, PEP officers eventually cracked down on the use of loud speakers.
During the ongoing COVID pandemic, though, amped-up musicians continued to play in the parks through the fall and winter without sound permits — and continued to be shut down by police and PEPs, both in Tompkins Square and Washington Square.
In one high-profile incident in September, Sixth Precinct police confiscated sound equipment from protesters in Washington Square after they had allegedly repeatedly refused cops’ warnings to stop using it. This led to the protesters marching down to the Village precinct, where, after a standoff, police swarmed them and made arrests in front of Cowgirl restaurant. Police said there had been “ongoing issues” with this group.
There are already signs, though, that this season could be different right from the start. Kanami Kusajima, a dancer who performs with sumi ink regularly in the park, said PEP officers recently warned her about the small speaker she uses, a portable Bluetooth model.
“I haven’t gotten a ticket yet,” she said. “[But] they told me it’s too loud.”
Yet, Kusajima said, previously police officers, chatting with her in passing, never indicated there was any issue with her speaker. She said her JBL Charge 4 amp only goes as loud as 80 decibels.
“Acoustic drums are like 100 decibels, I think,” she noted.
Concerned, Kusajima has started a petition, asking for the creation of an affordable “buskers permit.” She said that, as someone who performs in the park daily, she can’t afford $70 a day for a sound permit. There is also a $25 special-event sound permit, but that’s only for one-day events, she noted.
Her petition also advocates for legalizing certain types of small amps, plus allowing amps if they operate below a certain decibel threshold, which would need to be established. That would all likely mean more work for cops and PEPs to sort things out.
But Spataro said the current rule is clear and simple — no amplified music in the park without a sound permit, no exceptions.
“There’s no amplified sound allowed,” he said. “We try to be consistent, so that we don’t pick and choose.”