In Ditmas Park, ne'er-do-wells take over Cortelyou Road tot lot where rule-bound senior was fired

Parents: We need someone to lock the Lt. Narvaez Tot Lot

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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.

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Reader Feedback

adamben from bedstuy says:
for heavens sake create minimum security facilities and start tossing them in there for a month for a first offense, minimum, and crank it up to a year for repeated tresspassers; they will quickly find some other place to hang out.
Aug. 27, 2012, 8:30 am
Lola from Ditmas Park says:
I really take issue with the one sided representation of why Mr. Harris was relieved of his duties. There were many parents and babysitters who witnessed and reported his verbal harassment. If he was insulted it was only as a retort against his unsolicited comments. His language was offensive in the company of young children and unnecessary.
Aug. 28, 2012, 3:59 pm
Hank from Ditmas Park says:
Why don't the parents who played the role in his dismissal, take over and assign a sheriff with deputies and a posse to rid the tot lot of the undesirable characters who hang out there? I guess that would be called community policing. Either shut up or put up.
Aug. 28, 2012, 9:53 pm
Janet from Park Slope says:
What Hank said. The man was a volunteer, and if you want "someone" to replace him, look in the mirrow. If twice daily is too burdensome, come up with a schedule.
Aug. 29, 2012, 1:21 pm
Antonietta from Crown heights says:
Those who complained, and got the gentlemen fired from his duties, now step up and man the gates at the park.He was following the park rules by closing and opening at the times that are posted on the gate. His presence kept the park safe and clean ask him to come back and start paying him!!!!You get what you ask for, this is happening because of your actions. Now your kids have no where to play.
Aug. 29, 2012, 1:34 pm

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