Bryant Park's lost items always returned by eagle-eyed guards on security patrol

New York Daily News
August 3, 2011

by Larry McShane

There remains a place along once-sordid 42nd St. where the lost are still found. Credit the saviors of Bryant Park: its security patrol.

The veteran guards pace the park behind the New York Public Library with an eye for items left behind by absent-minded guests - laptops, cell phones, shopping bags, purses.

Distraught owners inevitably return, convinced they're more likely to spot Big Foot wandering the park than relocate their missing property.

"They're very nervous and anxious," said guard Preston Votor, a 21-year veteran. "And when they hear we have it, they're like, 'Thank God!'"

Take Angela Lewis, who left her phone in the park this summer after taking in a free movie. She returned the next day and met guard Herbert Sewell, who produced her lost device.

"Losing my phone was such an awful ending to a really wonderful day," Lewis emailed park officials. "I am extremely happy for Officer Sewell for giving me a fairy-tale ending."

Another park guest recovered a lost wallet - and the $218 in cash inside. A Connecticut woman was reunited with a business portfolio left behind after lunch. A leather handbag with keys, credit cards, cash and IDs was delivered intact to its owner.

Matching folks with their lost items is a matter of pride in the park. Sewell, a 16-year veteran, boasts of a 98% success rate - an improbably high number that's impossible to verify.

Still, consider this: With the millions of shoulder bags, shopping bags, purses and electronic devices toted through the park, there were only 109 unclaimed items last year - barely two per week.

And just two grand larcenies were reported within its cozy confines in 2010, said Daniel Biederman, executive director of the Bryant Park Corp.

"People say, 'Oh, my God, you'll never find it,'" said Biederman. "But we do."

Experience has taught the eagle-eyed guards about lost-and-found trends.

The season when the most stuff gets left behind: summer. The people most likely to leave something: women. The items most likely left: purses and jackets.

Votor, strolling the east end of the park on a steamy July afternoon, said he watches for people whose attention wanders from their property.

"People who don't have their bags in the line of sight, who aren't paying attention where their bags are at," he says. "People paying attention to each other, with their backs to the bags."

Sewell keeps watch on people involved in deep conversations: "Nine of out 10 walk away without their bags."

So has Votor ever left anything behind at the end of a shift? He takes a long pause, lifts an eyebrow, and finally flashes a smile.

"No," he said. "I haven't."