The rape and beating of a jogger has reinforced the reputation of Central Park as a haven for criminals, which city officials say is an unfair stereotype of America's most famous urban park.

"Generally, crime in the park is low. It is safe to jog in Central Park," said police Chief of Detectives Robert Colangelo after the Wednesday night attack by a marauding gang of teenagers left a 28-year-old woman near death."There's danger in jogging anywhere," Colangelo said. "But we don't feel it's inordinately dangerous here."

The park's reputation for illegal activity has been reinforced in recent years by several highly publicized incidents: Jennifer Levin's 1986 strangling by "preppie killer" Robert Chambers, a shooting a month earlier that left a police officer, Steven McDonald, paralyzed, and a 1983 free concert by Diana Ross that drew packs of thieves.

The victim of the latest attack, an investment banker, remained unconscious on life-support systems Friday at Metropolitan Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Aura Retamoso.

The woman lost roughly three-quarters of her blood in the attack and suffered a fractured skull, severe head lacerations, brain contusions, fractured facial bones and bruises from head to toe in the assault by a dozen teens, said Dr. Robert S. Kurtz, assistant chief of surgery at the hospital.

Kurtz said that on Friday her pulse rate "went way up" when her mother spoke to her. "So at some level she's processing information today, which she wasn't doing yesterday," he said.

Four teenagers were arrested Friday afternoon and charged with attempted murder, rape and assault. Police said additional arrests were expected.

Colangelo said the woman was attacked by some members of a group of 32 teens who went to the park Wednesday night to "raise hell, attack joggers, steal bicycles."

Within 10 minutes, they had assaulted three men, including a jogger and a homeless man. They later split up into three groups after spotting a police cruiser and terrorized at least nine people during a two-hour period.

Colangelo said the youths told investigators the crime spree resulted from a pastime called "wilding."

"It's not a term that we in the police had heard before," the chief said. "They just said, `We were going wilding.' In my mind at this point, it implies that they were going to go raise hell."

"Central Park is the focus of national attention. Every incident that happens there is news - especially if it's grisly," Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said Friday.

Last year, police had reports of 51 assaults and 13 rapes in the park, compared with 71,030 assaults and 3,412 rapes citywide.