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Crackdown coming on drugs, bikes, skateboarders — amplified music, too? — in Washington Square Park

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.”

Skateboarders took over the inside of the Washington Square fountain to do tricks. Sometimes they also skate in front of the Washington Square Arch. (Photo by The Village Sun)

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.”

Playing traditional jazz or any kind of music, without amplified sound, is legal. (Photo by The Village Sun)

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.

Dancing to traditional jazz in Washington Square Park, no permit required. (Photo by The Village Sun)

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.”

9 Comments

  1. Jane Doe Jane Doe March 15, 2021

    Hallelujah! Can we also ban pianos and loud percussion from the park please? For many of us, WSP is the only place in our neighborhood where we can enjoy the quiet sounds of nature or listen to our own thoughts, whereas there are dozens of places where one can go to hear drums and pianos around our area. It feels more and more like the economic and ego-driven goals of the few individuals who use the park as their performance space are outweighing the rights of the many to enjoy the quiet respite from the city that our park provides. Guitars, voices, small hand drums: yes! Drum kits, pianos, and other instruments that are audible from OUTSIDE the park’s perimeter: no!

  2. Sugar Barry Sugar Barry March 15, 2021

    Lincoln, Thanks for this really good article covering many of the problems we, the neighbors, have brought to the attention of Precinct 6 and The Parks Department over and over again!
    Now if only the lights can get fixed !
    It sounds like positive action is on the way!
    This is music to my ears, so to speak!
    Sugar Barry
    Washington Square Association

  3. Obiter Dicta Obiter Dicta March 15, 2021

    Kudo’s to Mr. Anderson for publicizing this menace and Kudo’s to Capt. Spataro and the other dedicated officers of the 6th precinct for addressing it. The buskers who come to Washington Square Park with their heavy duty amplification systems ruin it for all of us who try to find solace and peace within the tranquility of Washington Square Park but are unable to do so due to those who seek to commercialize and monetize the park for their own financial interests. It’s a shame that so few can ruin the park for so many out of sheer selfishness! A great many thanks to those dedicated offers who enforce the Parks Department regulations.

  4. Village Mom Village Mom March 16, 2021

    It’s about time… let’s see if this really happens… drugs are rampant. It’s the same dealers every day. The west side of the park has become unnavigable for ordinary citizens. Drug dealers, stolen goods, drinking, needles, spitting, urination, garbage. Can’t walk by with my kids without getting solicited or fear of catching something from the filthy environment. I feel for the Parks Department folks who have to clean up this mess every day as this is allowed to happen. Problem for decades??? Really??? Maybe time to get real with drug enforcement… get it done… this is illegal and steals a quality of life from hard-working citizens.

    • Hy Stein Hy Stein March 18, 2021

      Agree!
      I’ve called both the news media and the Guardian Angels. Nothing seems to happen until the news media covers this and then NYU gets afraid of bad press. As a longtime resident I see this as the very worst it’s been in decades. I encourage complacent neighbors to do the same and take back our park. Local elected officials and CB2 are clueless.

  5. Paula S Paula S March 16, 2021

    Sadly the skateboards are a hazard, especially to young children and seniors. Wheeled devices are prohibited from the park, it should be enforced. The Park Enforcement Police need to stop huddling inside or just outside the park office house and get to work on patrol. Day AND night when the park gets like an amusement park where the morning brings a mess of trash, bottles, food and containers all over the place. Additionally there is obvious damage from skateboarders on the stone benches, statues, benches and fountain surround from skateboarders “grinding” on these structures. CB2 really needs to wake up and get a clue. Taxpayers won’t tolerate our structures being destroyed.

  6. David Thall David Thall March 17, 2021

    The skateboarders have ruined the park.

    Besides being very loud and intruding on everyone else’s space NONSTOP – they also never wear masks and are the perfect weapon to spread Covid.

    Now instead of wanting to go to that park, I avoid it. They are really obnoxious, and they are not “kids”,

  7. Jane Doe's brother John Jane Doe's brother John March 18, 2021

    I need a permit to sell popcorn in the park or I’d get ticketed or worse, but selling drugs is permitted?

  8. Steven Hill Steven Hill April 7, 2021

    After Dusk it’s a Free for All…In the Morning Tons of Garbage and Liqour Bottles & Cans

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