Three hundred years ago, when New Yorkers were still British subjects, there were redcoats patrolling the streets of Lower Manhattan. Today, they’re still here — but much friendlier. The lobsterbacks of the 21st Century are the Downtown Alliance’s Public Safety Officers, who handle everything from medical emergencies to interventions on behalf of aggrieved tourists who believe they have been ripped off by unscrupulous street vendors.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Alliance presented eleven Public Safety Officers with awards for helping to make Lower Manhattan safer. Alliance president Jessica Lappin said, “our public safety officers are unmistakable in their bright red uniforms and their willingness to step in to any situation where their help is needed. They are ready at a moment’s notice to provide direction, assist in a medical emergency or provide conflict resolution.”
While several officers were recognized for summoning emergency help during violent crimes in progress, or coming to the aid of man having a seizure, two incidents in particular will strike world-weary Lower Manhattan residents as near-miracles. Last May, Officer Joseph Zapata came upon a pair of women arguing with a food cart operator, who they claimed had overcharged them for two hot dogs. Following Officer Zapata’s intervention, the vendor agreed to return the women’s money. For reasons that were not immediately clear, the vendor then went the extra mile of confessing that he regularly overcharged anybody who looked like a tourist.
And in July, Officers Jerry Marcus and Tenille Templeman intervened when a visitor to Lower Manhattan complained that a ticket hawker had sold him fake passes to the Statue of Liberty. Adding insult to injury, the tourist also alleged that the fake passes were overpriced. Officers Marcus and Templeman quickly realized that a semantic argument about whether there is any such thing as a reasonable price for fake tickets would be a distraction, and instead focused on getting a refund for the aggrieved sightseer. They were successful.
In the aggregate, these important — but often unnoticed — actions contribute to making Lower Manhattan a better, safer place. The Alliance’s 58 safety and security personnel undergo a level of training that some Lower Manhattan residents might find surprising. Several have attended multi-week training programs provided by the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the nearly 20 years that the Alliance has been fielding Public Safety Officers, crime in Lower Manhattan has dropped considerably and the residential population has more than doubled. The group’s mission has changed with the times. Today, in addition to counterterrorism training, the Alliance’s public safety team is also coached on providing Lower Manhattan’s 11.5 million annual tourists with directions, district maps, and recommendations on local attractions. But they also respond as a unit to grave crises, such as 2013’s Hurricane Sandy, when eight officers remained at their posts and on duty for 72 consecutive hours, providing crucial on-the-ground updates in real time about weather conditions, street closures, and flood impacts in Lower Manhattan.
The mission of the Downtown Alliance is to enhance Lower Manhattan for businesses, residents and visitors. (Along with providing security, the Alliance also provides trash pickup and operates the business improvement district, or BID, that covers the area south of Chambers Street.) Among the services provided by the Alliance that Lower Manhattan residents especially prize is the Downtown Connection shuttle, which ferries passengers (free of charge) between 37 local stops that link residential areas neighborhoods with business and shopping districts. Running from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week, the Downtown Connection was launched by the Alliance in 2003 and expanded in 2009. Funded in part by the Battery Park City Authority, the Connection shuttle is currently utilized by more than 800,000 people each year.