Morningside Park Turnaround Plan Includes New Lights and Beefed-Up Police Patrols, Along With Support for Kids

A meeting last week about the park was packed.

By Brett Forrest

New lights. New cameras. More patrols. These are some of the safety improvements in and around Morningside Park that have been implemented following the death of Barnard freshman Tessa Majors in December.

In a crowded community meeting last Wednesday night, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and other elected officials laid out more steps to keep the area safe.

“It often takes horrible tragedy to bring the community together,” Brewer said to start the Morningside Park Community Forum.

Her response to the December murder addressed both park safety improvements as well as an increase in counseling services for District 3 and P.S. 180, where the young teenage suspects attended school.

“Every school has to have a full-time, culturally appropriate social worker,” Brewer said to applause. According to officials, every school currently has a guidance counselor, but Brewer is seeking to provide additional mental health services for District 3.

Her focus on youth programming and services was reiterated by police during the forum.

“How do we reach out to these youth?” asked Aneudy Castillo, commanding officer of NYPD’s 26th precinct. According to Castillo, in 2019, 60% of the robberies in his precinct were committed by youth. Twelve of the 17 robberies in Morningside Park were by youth perpetrators.

“Since the unfortunate homicide in December, we’ve taken crime prevention measures,” Castillo said. So far, the city has installed six new light towers, three along Morningside Avenue and three along Morningside Drive, and six new cameras inside and around the perimeter of the park.

In addition, all park lampposts are being converted to brighter LED lights and 25 more lights will be installed within the next few weeks.

Castillo also announced an around-the-clock foot patrol and mobile car unit that will monitor Morningside Park at all hours every day. In total, the NYPD has assigned four officers to patrol the park in three shifts each day.

“We’ve been meeting with the police department, the 26th precinct, Columbia security, Barnard security, and the parks department every two weeks,” said Bill Castro, NYC Parks Borough Commissioner.

Castro said a new Parks Enforcement Patrol substation was established at 123rd Street near the playground at the northern park edge. One sergeant and six officers have been stationed there since the murder and will be posted there indefinitely.

“This is something that is long-term because we feel it’s extremely important to continue to make progress in the park,” Castro said. “We don’t want the park to go back. We want it to go forward.”

About 200 people crammed into the space at the Harlem Police Athletic League, just around the corner from Morningside Park. Another 50 were seated in an overflow room upstairs.

Parents, students, teachers, professors, and concerned citizens turned up in droves to learn what was being done and what they could do to help.

“I use Morningside Park a fair amount. I run through there, but never in the evening or after dark” said Gretchen Connelie, who  just moved to the Upper West Side from Midtown. “I’m here to get involved. There’s a sense of community up here. I wouldn’t even know who I would have talked to in Midtown if I had a problem.”

The crowd size seemed to surprise Aissatou Bey Grecia, vice president of the Friends of Morningside Park community group. “It’s good to know you can put a call out and there’s an answer,” she said.

“The turnout gives me hope,” said Adam Powers, 17, a high school senior who lives in Morningside Heights. “It’s really great to see people here just to have a discussion and to hear from other engaged members of the community.”

As for the proposed school changes and increased safety measures, Powers is more reserved in his praise. “It always comes down to money. It’s about making sure the resources are in the right place,” he said. “It’s great to change it after the fact, but these should have been done in the first place.”

Photos by Brett Forrest.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 2 comments | permalink
    1. denton says:

      ‘support for kids’. OK. I grew up here. I went to PS125 across the street. Something needs to change in the nabe. It seems to be baked into the DNA of the nabe like forever… this sh*t has been going on for 55 years or more. Much more. Google the Edmund Perry case. Not to blame the wrong people, but Barnard and Columbia bear some of the blame too. All these poor folks from far away who come and believe what they read in the papers, how safe NYC is. Morningside Park and Morningside Drive are NEVER safe at night. When I was a kid, you never, ever, went into the park without 4 or 5 of your boys. Some sh*t never changes. And the beat goes on…

    2. notsofast says:

      “Culturally appropriate” social worker? Not a competent or credentialed social worker, but a “culturally appropriate” one? Gale Brewer should be ashamed of herself.