By Alex Israel
The Community Board 7 (CB7) Parks & Environment Committee called on Central Park Police and the city Department of Parks & Recreation to add more resources for enforcing and educating park visitors about dog-related rules and regulations.
During Monday’s meeting of CB7’s Parks & Environment Committee, conducted over Zoom, committee member Susan Schwartz proposed a resolution—which passed nearly unanimously—to provide support and encouragement for the enforcement of dog-related regulations that are currently in place as outlined by the city.
The agenda item was tied to the story of birder Christian Cooper, who asked dog owner Amy Cooper to leash her dog in the Ramble last month. She called the police and repeatedly said an African-American was threatening her, a claim widely condemned as a racist provocation. Tensions between birders and dog owners had been bubbling well before that incident went viral—in fact, a week prior to the incident, Christian Cooper had approached the committee to request that they call on the city for increased enforcement of leash laws. He was also present (via Zoom) at the meeting on Monday.
While NYPD and Park Rangers have the authority to write summonses for park visitors disobeying such laws, typically the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers take the lead when it comes to dog leash violations, according to Edwin Rodriguez, Assistant Commissioner for Urban Park Service with the Parks Department. On a daily basis, PEP employs four officers per each day and night shift, as well as a ‘mounted unit’, made up of two officers on horseback, he said.
Rodriguez did not have specific data about that to share during the meeting, but “we do issue a lot of dog-related summonses for Central Park,” he said. Despite this assertion, the majority of committee and community members said that more public enforcement and education is necessary.
“Dogs off leash and in prohibited areas has been an ongoing issue, but the incidence of off-leash incidents and other dog rules violations appear to have increased in recent months with increased usage of the park,” reads the text of the resolution. Its key call to action is below:
Be it resolved that Community Board 7/Manhattan calls on the Central Park Police working together with the Department of Parks and Recreation (PEP and Rangers) and the Central Park Conservancy, to allocate their collective resources towards education and enforcement of existing dog leash rules and other dog regulations to protect the beloved park’s extraordinary wildlife, landscapes, and park users, thus reducing conflicts among park users and ensuring the enjoyment of the park by all members of our community.
Christian Cooper joined the meeting to advocate in favor of the resolution. “I think it’s long overdue. This is not about a race issue—it became about a race issue in this particular instance—but what it really is was a conflict between a birder and a dog-walker,” he said. Cooper added that he believed the conflict would never have happened if there had been a culture of more regular enforcement in the park—a sentiment echoed by members of the committee.
Molly Adams, Advocacy & Outreach Manager for NYC Audubon—the avian advocacy nonprofit of which Cooper is a board member—shared the organization’s support for the resolution. “It’s important for us that community members understand the importance of keeping their dogs on leashes to protect people, other dogs, birds, and other wildlife,” she said. Adams also called on the committee to support an increase in the overall city budget for park safety, so that the Parks Department can allocate more resources to educating park visitors about the proper rules and regulations.
Ken Chaya, President of the Linnean Society of New York also shared support. “The solution should be simple: issue a summons to everyone who is in violation of the law.” Do it for two weeks, he suggested, “and you will have sent a clear message that Central Park is not anyone’s private dog run.”
While committee member Ken Coughlin suggested the removal of any call for police enforcement—something he felt might be seen as “tone deaf” during a time of heightened unrest over police brutality—the request was not seconded by another committee member, and thus unincorporated into the final text.
When it came time to vote, all committee members voted in favor of the resolution aside from Coughlin. The resolution will be up for a vote during its next full board meeting, Tuesday, July 7, 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.