Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder promised Tuesday night to conduct a safety assessment of every county and town park as he and public officials tried to assure residents that an Old Bethpage park was still safe after a fatal drug-related shooting this month.
"We did this with our schools, with our businesses, with houses of worship," Ryder told more than 50 attendees during a community hearing at the Howard B. Mattlin Middle School in Plainview. "Maybe we should do this with our parks, too."
Ryder said he would discuss the idea Wednesday during a meeting previously scheduled with his homeland security officers and assess parks this summer on lighting, surveillance cameras, gates and other safety aspects. He said that was done at the Massapequa Preserve, where bodies of several MS-13 gang victims have been dug up.
"What you do is score your parks," the commissioner told Newsday after the hearing. "Where are the problems?"
He said the idea came to him during the hearing as residents, unnerved by the aberration of the July 6 shooting at Haypath Road Park, complained of drug deals, speeding, and beer drinking at other parks as well.
Gideon Karliner, 71, of Old Bethpage questioned whether he should continue taking his grandson to Haypath Road Park during the day.
"Is it now safe to be in the park with nobody there other than myself and my grandson?" he asked. "Has that park been known in the past to have any drug dealings going on?"
The meeting was organized by Nassau County Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) to calm nerves and allow public officials, including Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, to give updates on measures implemented since the shooting. Ryder said everyone but the alleged drug dealer came from outside the community.
"This was an isolated incident," Drucker said. "It is not a situation where we are faced with a crime-ridden community."
Saladino said several security measures were implemented within days of the shooting. High gates have already been installed at all entrances, and they are locked at dusk. Also, public safety officers are making more patrols, in conjunction with Nassau police. New signs were put up to let people know the park is under video surveillance, he said, and better LED lighting is now in the park.
The town is also looking at enhanced video, such as cameras that can be moved remotely, he said.
"We are going to put the accent on this park and this community to ensure this park is the safest of all parks," Saladino said.
Tina Reich, who has lived in Plainview for 17 years, asked officials not to forget "pocket parks" that she said appear to get little attention when it comes to policing and public resources.
One park near her is a hangout at night, she said.
"It would be helpful if there's a light," said Reich, 55. She proposed a motion-sensitive light: "Someone goes in, the light goes on."
Ryder said the parks assessment would look at reducing crime through environmental design, such as cutting the height of shrubbery so the officers can see if someone is in the park at night.
Problem parks would be monitored by police helicopters with infrared cameras to detect nighttime trespassers. He said that it's already being done at certain parks on Friday and Saturday nights.
Drucker said he backs the idea: "Maybe now this is an opportunity and a wake-up call."
In the Haypath Road Park shooting, police said Stefon Pierre, 22, of Queens was shot by Brandon P. Torres, 22, of Staten Island, during what they characterized as a botched robbery of a drug dealer. The two men and three other accomplices went to the park at night, and Pierre was on the "backup team" in case the dealer had his own friends to help. But when he approached during the holdup, Torres shot him in the dark, thinking he was part of the dealer's group, homicide detectives have said.
Torres and alleged co-conspirator Kion Carter, 25, of Middle Island, have been charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The other two suspects, Charles Spinella,17, of Kings Park and Patricia Quilliam, 19, of Greenlawn, were each charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Police said Torres and another suspect took 1 pound of marijuana, car keys and cellphone from alleged drug dealer Dimitri Filacouris, 21, of Old Bethpage. Filacouris was charged with second-degree criminal possession of marijuana.