Dyker Heights residents have begged the city to provide more police officers to manage the traffic and crowds that flood the neighborhood to gawk at its annual holiday lights, but the city refused because it says the Dyker Lights display — which draws thousands of spectators a night in cars and even tour buses — is a “private event.”
“The event occurs on private property,” said a spokeswoman from the mayor’s office to explain the city’s rejection earlier this year of Community Board 10’s application for a Street Activity Permit, which would have helped keep order by requiring a beefed-up police presence and putting restrictions on vendors.
One 85th Street resident whose car was hit and dented in her own driveway on Christmas night by a driver cruising down the street to see the lights said that the police have an obligation to protect private property during the month-and-a-half-long display.
“They have to do something,” said 11th Avenue resident Sueann DiPrima. “When they see people on our property, go over and say something, ‘Don’t ruin my property, don’t steal my things.’ When they see people selling things they shouldn’t be, go over and take them. If you cannot change the situation, change the way you handle it.”
After the city denied the community board’s Street Activity Permit application earlier this year, CB10 district manager Josephine Beckmann and chairwoman Doris Cruz sent a letter to Police Commissioner James O’Neill on Nov. 22 — just before the Lights display began — asking him to review and reconsider the police department’s denial of the permit for the prime Dyker Lights area, from 10th to 13th avenues between Bay Ridge Avenue and 86th Street.
But neither O’Neill nor any other police department representative ever responded to the letter or reached out about allocating additional officers to help keep order, said Beckmann, who added that she began receiving an uptick in complaints from locals requesting more police officers in mid-December, about halfway through the six-week event.
“We’ve had many, many complaints saying that there aren’t enough police resources at the event. Residents are very frustrated,” Beckmann said. “Some residents haven’t been able to get down their street, and those who have gotten down their street have been met with problems. There’s been a lot of litter strewn about, and there’s been overall a lot of congestion.”
The police department told the community board in early October that it rejected the permit for this year’s festivities because the application “did not meet the criteria for which a street activity permit is issued,” according to department reps. The mayor’s Street Activity Permit Office — which officially issues or rejects permits following police input — told this paper in December that police rejected the permit because the activity occurs on private property, rather than the public streets.
But when spectators descend on the nabe in cars and tour busses, they fill the streets and sidewalks to gawk at the lights while vendors set up shop both on sidewalks and even in people’s yards. The community board’s letter to O’Neill estimated that the display saw nearly 100,000 visitors last year, calling it “second only to the Rockefeller Christmas tree viewing” on the distant isle of Manhattan.
The mayor’s office directed all follow-up questions regarding the “private” nature of the event to the police department, which did not respond to a request for comment on why it rejected the board’s permit application or how many officers are deployed to cover the event on a nightly basis.
A resident who lives on 83rd Street between 10th and 11th avenues said that police at least need to direct traffic to keep it flowing.
“Just to get out of our house the other day took me longer than getting across half of Staten Island,” said April Scanio. “You don’t have the fluidity of traffic as you should. Leave the streets open and have someone to direct traffic.”
One longtime visitor who was born and raised in the nabe and has since moved to the distant isle of Manhattan said that she felt dismayed seeing disrespectful visitors who stomped all over residents’ property this year.
“As someone who was born there, it depressed me to see the police and the quality of people, to be honest,” said Nancy Valentino. “And people standing on front lawns? I was stunned by the lack of respect. You never would have seen that [before].”