Tot Lot where ‘sheriff’ was fired is being overrun by drug dealers, parents say

Locked out: Leroy Harris, 85, gave his time as a volunteer at the Lt. Federico Narvaez Tot Lot in Ditmas Park for decades — but says the city snubbed him by letting him go and changing the locks.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Cortelyou Road tot lot where an octogenarian gatekeeper was fired for following city rules too strictly has become a nighttime hangout for drug dealers, drunks, and vagrants, according to parents who say they’re afraid to bring their children to the Ditmas Park play space.

The city dismissed 85-year-old Leroy Harris, a park volunteer who gave up his mornings and evenings to open and close the Lt. Narvaez Tot Lot since the 1990s at the end of March after parents complained that the rule-bound senior was closing the park too early for their tastes and cursing at children.

Five months later, parents say no one is manning the gates to the tot lot — which is named after a 70th Precinct cop killed in the line of duty —making it a perfect rallying point for ne’er-do-wells of all types.

“There are people hanging out there late at night and there’s evidence of crimes being committed in a place where babies are basically licking the sidewalk,” said one concerned parent, who would only identify herself as Christina. “My husband found dime bags there.”

Longtime residents say the park is beginning to look like it did more than two decades ago, before Harris took over as park sheriff.

But the city shouldn’t count on the senior stepping in to help out.

“Even if they ask me again, I don’t want to have nothing to do with it,” said Harris, who said he’s found another way to get his daily exercise without having to open and close the park gates. “Nobody paid me, and all I got was insults.”

Parks Department officials admitted that they haven’t found anyone to lock up the tot lot since Harris was let go.

“Parks are generally locked by community volunteers,” said Parks spokesman Philip Abramson. “If any responsible members of the community are interested in volunteering, we welcome their assistance.”

Community Board 14 members said they’ve received numerous complaints about the Lt. Narvaez Tot Lot since Harris’s departure and were working on a solution with both residents and police.
“There has been a major uptick in cigarette butts, glass bottles, and trash thrown everywhere,” one board member said. “The Tot Lot should be swept and locked at night, as it was previously.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

More from Around New York