After a false start and a spell of glum weather, New York is finally starting to feel springlike this week—just in time for 4/20. If you’re the type who likes to celebrate the day, and who likes to do it outdoors rather than in the safety of your living room, take heed before you smoke weed.
About a year ago, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the NYC parks department for every 311 complaint about pot smoke in city parks made in the previous several years. The sites of those complaints are mapped above and on the zoomable Google map below. Further down, you’ll find some highlights from the calls, including complaints about a teen orgy spot in Brooklyn and a gray-haired man who keeps turning up on Coney Island.
Fewer people are irked enough about weed to file a formal complaint than you might think. In the four-and-half-year period between January 2010 and May 2015, when I made the request, there were only 69 total calls (nice). Because I filed my request with the parks department, however, it doesn’t include people smoking on the sidewalk or other non-park public places.
The most commonly narced spot is the PS 14 Playground pool in Staten Island, which received eight complaints, all in August 2014. They all seem to have been left by the same anonymous person who repeatedly narced on two Park Enforcement Patrol officers who were supposedly smoking on the job. Disregarding that obsessively dedicated member of the fun police, the biggest narc spots were Inwood Hill/Isham Park, Uptown Manhattan’s most beautifully secluded spot (four complaints); Owl’s Head Park, a waterfront green spot in Bay Ridge that sits just downriver from a wastewater treatment plant (three complaints); and Rockaway Beach (three complaints). All seem like pretty nice places for a toke, aside from the stench at Owl’s Head. Maybe it covers the smoke.
Below, a few noteworthy excerpts from the notes of the poor 311 operators who took the callers’ complaints (sic throughout).
The teenage bathroom sex den
Every complaint from Owl’s Head makes reference to the park’s comfort station, which is evidently the South Brooklyn teen scene’s hottest spot for getting stoned and confusedly groping your peers. The first, from March 11, 2015, reads:
a group of teenagers smoking Marijuana inside restroom comfort station at Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge-Brooklyn. Observed occurance time 10am to 11:30am during school days.
Another complaint, left one week later, is much more detailed.
Youth marijuana smoking inside restroom comfort station in Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge-Brooklyn. Marijuana smokers are regularly observed during school days during 10:30-11:00am and 2:30-4:00pm. The presence of marijuana smoking is a great concern as other park patrons avoid using the restroom for fear of safety. Often time, park employees turn a blind eye to the marijuana smoking situation inside the restroom comfort station, creating a safe haven to marijuana smokers. In the most extreme occurence, marijuana smokers were also seen having sex inside the comfort station at Owl’s Head Park in Brooklyn. Disription, 5 teenagers, 3 males and 2 females.
The park officers getting high on the job
We don’t want to exacerbate the narcing, we’ll refer to the two Staten Island Park Enforcement Patrol officers who were narced eight times in two weeks by the pseudonyms ITCHY and SCRATCHY. The actual complaints give a first and last name for each of them.
The following complaints are presented in chronological order, starting August 17, 2014, and ending August 31.
PEP OFFICER (ITCHY) sleeping on job after smoking marijuana ...
PEP OFFICER (ITCHY) SMOKING MARIJUANA OUTSIDE THE PARK
PEP Officer (ITCHY) Smoking Marijuana/carrying on outside of pool
ITCHY (PEP OFFICER) SMOKING MARIJUANA WITH FRIENDS IN UNIFORM IN FRONT OF CHILDREN
Parks Officer ITCHY out if uniform not on post smoking marijuana daily...
Parks security smoking marijuana ..
Pep officer not on post - on his phone - not doing his job - smoking marijuana - officers name is ITCHY
SCRATCHY (FPO) sleeping in job - Smoking Marijuana - endangering the welfare of children.
The playground in decline
In May 2015, two increasingly frantic complaints were left about the Playground for All Children in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Park.
The first calmly describes the problems at the playground:
Park used to have workers who supervised (opened/closed) and made sure that adults without children were not allowed. Now there is no supervision. Teens come in a smoke marijuana, climb on roofs and take over. It is no longer a safe family park.
And the second verges on existential crisis:
Teenage kids smoking marijuana in the playhouses where children should be playing. This has become a big problem here. Someone needs to do something. Where is the staff in this place??? What happened to this place??
Some good scare quotes in one of several complaints about Inwood Hill/Isham:
Group of women smoking cigars mixed with Marijuana or “Blunts” in northwest Isham Park in Manhattan
The teenage weed army
From Lawrence Virgilio Playground in Woodside, Queens, September 2014:
THERE ARE ABOUT 50 TEENAGERS IN THE PARK SMOKING CIGARETTES. MALE AND FEMALES. THIS HAPPENS VERY OFTEN. THEY’RE NOT FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND IT MAKES IT UNCOMFORTABLE FOR THE LOCAL RESIDENTS TO USE THE PARK. THEY’RE ALSO STAY IN THE PARK AFTER HOURS AND SMOKE MARIJUANA INSTEAD.
“THE NOISE IS SO LOUD THAT RESIDENTS CANNOT LOOK AT TV”
From the Bronx’s Crotona Park, September 2013:
CUSTOMER STATES THAT UNKNOWNS ARE USING THE PARK ACROSS FROM HIS PROPERTY FOR ILLEGAL SELLING OF ALCOHOL, DRUGS, CIGARETTES, AND PLAYING LOUD MUSIC TO THE AFFECT THAT RESIDENTS IS UNABLE TO SLEEP. THESE UNKNOWNS COME WITH THEIR MOTOR CYCLES AND RIDE THEM ON THE SIDEWALK. THESE UNKNOWNS ALSO SMOKE MARIJUANA ON THE STREET AND THEY’RE TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL.
THESE ACTIVITIES TAKE PLACE ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY.
THE NOISE IS SO LOUD THAT RESIDENTS CANNOT LOOK AT TV.
The old beach bum
Each of a pair of complaints made two years apart references a gray-haired man smoking with companions on the beach at Coney Island near 33rd Street. There’s no way to no for sure, but I like to imagine it’s the same old guy, getting high with his friends, year after year, narcs be damned.
The first, from June 26, 2011:
THE CUSTOMER STATES THAT THEIR IS SMOKING ON THE BEACH OF MARIJUANA AND ALSO DRINKING ON THE BEACH. ONE MAN WEIGHS ABOUT 350 POUNDS, THE OTHER GUY HAS GRAY HAIR.
The second, from August 16, 2013:
ONE MAN ABOUT 5'8 WITH GRAY HAIR & MUSTACHE AND THREE WOMEN ARE SMOKING MARIJUANA ON BEACH CONSTANTLY.
God bless you, old man. And happy 4/20.