Police Officer Nicholas Demutiis Park
Police Officer Nicholas DeMutiis Playground
This playground is named in honor of Nicholas DeMutiis (1962-1994), a dedicated police officer who worked in this neighborhood and died in the line of duty. On January 25, 1994, at about 11 pm, Officer DeMutiis was making his way to the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park, Queens, where he was scheduled to work the midnight to 8 am shift. On the way, DeMutiis spotted a group of police cars involved in a high-speed pursuit of a stolen car, and following procedure, joined the chase. DeMutiis placed his 1977 Plymouth at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 102nd Street to block the suspect, who rammed DeMutiis’ car broadside, pinning the car to a pillar. The officer was taken to Jamaica Hospital and died a few hours later. Friends and fellow officers remembered DeMutiis, a 10-year veteran cop, as a devoted family man who was involved in charities, including the precinct’s Christmas party for neighborhood children. The City Council enacted a local law to dedicate this playground in DeMutiis’ honor a few months after he died. Police Officer Nicholas DeMutiis Playground lies near the spot of the crash that ended the officer’s life, at the north side of Liberty Avenue, bounded by 101st and 102nd Streets.
In the 1820s, Ozone Park was famous for its two prominent horseracing facilities, the Centerville Race Track and the Union Course Race Track. At one race in 1823 featuring the best horses from the North and the South, 50,000 people came to the largely undeveloped area and wagered a total of about $200,000—an enormous sum for the day. Music publisher Benjamin W. Hitchcock developed Ozone Park in the 1880s and marketed the area for its “invigorating and healthful breezes” sweeping in from Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Although today we associate “ozone” with environmental troubles, at the time Hitchcock named the area, the word connoted pleasant breezes and peaceful pastoral scenes, very attractive images to bustling city dwellers.
In 1907, real estate developer David Leahy began to build small homes in the fields south of Ozone Park. He lured middle-class buyers with the promise that only a small down payment and additional monthly fees would secure them a “four-room cottage in the country.” Elevated train service to Jamaica began in 1908, making the area even more attractive to families wanting an escape from the busy city. Rockaway Boulevard, the area’s main commercial strip, was completed in 1922, and by 1957, the bordering neighborhoods of Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Richmond Hill South together boasted a population of more than 130,000 residents. The horse racing tradition in Ozone Park continues today at Aqueduct Racetrack, located at Rockaway Boulevard and Southern Parkway.
Parks acquired this property by condemnation in August 1936. At its opening, the park was called Ozone Playground. The playground includes a bocce ball court, two paddleball courts, a basketball court, benches, checker-tables, a park house and a spray shower. Linden Grove, a small thicket of Linden trees (Tilia americana), enriches the playground’s landscape. These trees have heart-shaped leaves and highly perfumed yellowish-white flowers that bloom in late May. Parks installed new modular play equipment and safety surfacing in 1998.
Police Officer Nicholas DeMutiis Playground is host to a division of the Police Athletic League (PAL). This league is a non-profit organization run by volunteer police officers and dedicated to the educational, cultural, and recreational enrichment of the city’s children. The parkland serves as a fitting memorial to one of New York’s finest who gave his life for the community.