Brooklyn Heights

Huge spring break crowds cause chaos in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Fights, assaults and stampede have neighbors on edge

April 16, 2023 Mary Frost
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Neighbors of Brooklyn Bridge Park are demanding that the park do something to manage the large, unruly crowds of young people who gather there during warm weather.

Thursday evening, April 13, was especially chaotic, with up to a thousand high school-aged kids on spring break overwhelming the ability of Park Enforce Patrol (PEP) to handle the situation. 

According to witnesses and videos posted to social media, fights broke out, at least one assault took place and hundreds of youth stampeded around Pier 2, which is the site of basketball, handball and other fitness equipment.

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“BBP was active if u know u know,” wrote one boy under a video he posted showing a large crowd running around Pier 2.

“Tonight was a terrifying night in the Brooklyn Bridge Park,” Brooklyn Heights resident Jennifer (who does not want her last name used) wrote in an email on Thursday to local community organizations and officials. “I went down around 6:30 p.m. and saw thousands of young people. Within a few minutes I saw about 400 stampeding from the roller rink to the basketball courts as if they were running for their lives.”

Jennifer, a school psychologist, said she saw just one NYPD squad car in the park, which “couldn’t possibly do anything against a mob of that size.” She said a police van arrived, “but quickly departed. Another stampede broke out with one young man chased by at least 100 people. He looked like he was running for his life. I went up to the [Brooklyn Heights] Promenade to stay safe.”

Sources told the Brooklyn Eagle that PEP had called NYPD after seeing the large crowd gathering, and the 84th Precinct’s NCO officers and unit were immediately dispatched to the park. Eight 84th Precinct police officers were held on overtime on Thursday night, the source said. More officers were stationed in the park Friday night.

An NYPD spokesperson said on Sunday that the 84th Precinct’s Commanding Officer, Deputy Inspector Adeel Rana, “Is aware of community complaints and has deployed Neighborhood Coordination Officers, Youth Coordination Officers and patrol officers to the park.  We will  continue to work closely with the Parks Department and the community to address any complaints that occur in the park.”

The 84th Precinct will have a summer detail dedicated to the park from Memorial Day until Labor Day, the spokesperson added.

A social media post shows a bit of the unsupervised spring break activity on Pier 2 on Thursday, April 13. Social media screengrab

Hit with a bottle while playing basketball

Tim Hoenig, a longtime resident of Willowtown at the southwestern edge of Brooklyn Heights, told the Eagle that he came home from a family trip around 9 p.m. Thursday night only to find an unconscious 17-year-old boy on the steps of his house.

“He had a white T-shirt wrapped around his head and his face was swollen. I asked him, ‘Hey, are you okay?’ He opened his eyes for a second and said, ‘I got beat up.’ I asked him who I should call and he told me to call his aunt,” Hoenig said. The young man’s name was Wilford. 

Wilford’s aunt, Abiola Fields, told Hoenig that another good Samaritan had already contacted her; she had called an ambulance and was trying to find her nephew’s location using Google Maps.

Wilford told Hoenig he was hit with a bottle while he was playing basketball on Pier 2, and that his cellphone and wallet had been stolen. FDNY responders transported Wilford to NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. 

Wilford’s Aunt Fields told the Eagle. “I met the police at the hospital. They said there were several incidents that night at the park.”

After a CT scan, her nephew was diagnosed with a slight concussion and a laceration on the back of his head, and was released from the hospital, she said. 

“The police did say there are some cameras in the area,” Fields said. “The detective will be in contact with me in the next week or two.”

The owner of the Iris Cafe shared this photo of an overturned table and broken glasses caused by out-of-control youth in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Friday, April 14. Photo courtesy Iris Cafe

Trouble at the Iris Cafe

On Friday night a group of youth harassed employees at the Iris Cafe and its next-door grocery store at the southern end of the park.

A boy overturned a table in the restaurant, sending the glasses on it crashing to the floor, and threatened the waitresses, according to the restaurant’s owner, who did not want her name used. 

At the same time, several girls tried to walk out of the grocery without paying and threatened the employees. Workers locked the doors to the restaurant and grocery as kids banged on them, the owner said. 

Two of the waitresses quit after the incident. “This was the third time this happened this week,” the owner said. “I can’t blame them. They don’t feel safe here.”

Police reviewed the video of the incident and quickly rounded up the boy who had overturned the table, she said. They brought him to the restaurant and he apologized.

“I told him if he agreed to never do this again, I wouldn’t press charges,” the owner said. “He’s just a kid and I don’t want to saddle him with a police record.” But police have his information, and if he repeats his destructive behavior he’ll be arrested, she added.

Police monitored Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Friday, after huge crowds caused chaos on Thursday, April 13. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Brooklyn Bridge Park responds

“Unfortunately, a couple of fights did break out in the Park this evening, and our Park Enforcement Patrol reached out to the 84th Precinct to request assistance,” BBP President Eric Landau said in a statement on Friday. “PD remained on-site with our Enforcement Officers to help calm the group and gradually clear them from the Park,” he added. 

“We will certainly follow up with both PEP and the 84th to have a more extensive debrief on this,” Landau said.

A park spokesperson told the Eagle that on the Tuesday before the incidents, they had informed the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (CAC) that in advance of expected large spring break crowds, they had flagged NYPD for additional assistance.

However, Linda DeRosa, a member of the CAC representing Willowtown, wrote in an email on Friday, “April is always the spring break high-alert month. Why must we even have to call it out every year and then still be told “we did our best” after the violence happens? It’s predictable.” 

PEP officers estimated Thursday night’s crowd to be around 400-500, a park spokesperson said. (Police officers on site Friday told the Eagle they estimated the crowd to be closer to 1,000.)

Park police (PEP) officers told the Eagle that Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park was closed at 8 p.m. over the weekend “because of all that nonsense.” Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Officials: Events are ‘concerning’

“I am concerned about the events in Brooklyn Bridge Park this week and am committed to identifying solutions, to ensuring everyone is able to safely enjoy our beloved park,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Eagle. “Our office has been in active communication with Brooklyn Bridge Park leadership, the 84th Precinct and neighbors, and we will continue to swiftly identify tangible solutions, including better management and mitigation of crowds.”

“One of the greatest things about Brooklyn Bridge Park is that it is a place where everyone can feel welcome and enjoy a safe space for recreation. It’s critical that the park remains so, and I believe that is a top priority for Brooklyn Bridge Park and the NYPD,” Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Lara Birnback said. 

“The events of the past few days are very concerning, as they ultimately impact the park experience negatively for all of its users. I’m confident that the park, the NYPD, our elected officials and all of the communities who engage with the park can find ways to keep it safe and enjoyable for all. That’s what we’ll be working on in the coming days and weeks,” Birnback said.

April Somboun, a BBP CAC member for North Heights Neighbors and a BHA Governor, suggested that stakeholders “all reconvene again as soon as possible and that includes BBP, 84th Precinct, CAC, Councilmember Restler, etc.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 on the Brooklyn waterfront. Photo by Alexa Hoyer

Staffing levels down since 2018

PEP staffing levels for the spring and summer season are expected to include one captain, three sergeants, 15 PEP officers and four additional seasonal officers between July 1-Oct. 31, a park spokesperson said. 

This is four fewer seasonal officers than the park had in 2018. After similar outbreaks in 2016 and 2017, the park upped its security personnel to three sergeants, 15 PEP officers and eight seasonal officers.  

The 84th Precinct usually boosts officers during the summer season as well, but numbers for this summer could not be immediately confirmed.

Getting to be a tradition

Large, disorderly crowds in the park are a spring tradition dating back almost a decade. 

– In 2015, after gunshots on Pier 2, extra police were promised.  

– On May 11, 2016, hundreds of young people gathered at Pier 2 and a brawl reportedly broke out. An unverified report on social media stated: “Bats canes bottles knifes grips it was like world war park.” 

– Citing large crowds, violent incidents and death threats on social media, police closed down Pier 2 on April 27 and on other days in 2016. 

– On April 11, 2017, a Level One Mobilization was called as sections of the park were forcibly evacuated by police due to overcrowding, fights and attacks. 

– BBP’s Landau told the Eagle in 2018 that more police, more park patrol officers and the installation of security cameras should go a long way toward preventing brawls, robbery other incidents.

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