At the Gowanus Houses, opinions about police are abundant–but getting someone’s name is hard to come by.
“The cops come in here, they have attitude. They question everything you’re doing,” said a middle-aged man on Butler and Bond Street who refused to be identified. “They write you up for an open container. Yet every neighborhood does it. Blacks, whites, asians, latinos. They only scrutinize us here, though. It’s like we live under siege.”
He was expounding upon his opposition to the “Summer All Out” plan, recently enacted by police commissioner Bratton, to pull more than 300 police officers from their desk jobs onto the street as an added measure of protection for residents of the New York City Housing Authority’s various locations. The largest “all out” plan in several decades, the announcement comes amidst an uptick in shootings and a concern about rising gang violence.
“Basically, 313 officers were identified throughout the department and they had desk jobs, they had inside positions,” said Carlos Gomez, the Chief of the NYPD’s Housing Bureau. For a 90-day period, Gomez explained, the officers will predominantly be assigned to housing projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx, where 75 percent of gun violence emanates from.
“These officers will be doing evening tours…they’ll be providing high visibility deployment around the [NYCHA] developments,” Gomez said. “The idea is to thwart the usual summer spike in violence, which has normally occurred in and around housing projects managed by the New York City Housing Authority.”
The “all out” program is just one branch of Mayor de Blasio’s comprehensive strategy to improve life in NYCHA developments. Along with more targeted law enforcement efforts, the Mayor also announced immediate physical improvements, aggressive community engagement and outreach efforts, and the expansion of work and education programs.
But not all NYCHA residents received the news warmly.
“You have to question why these guys were on desk jobs in the first place,” said the Butler Street man’s companion (name similarly refused). “They fucked up in the streets, so the NYPD can’t vouch for them, but for some reason can’t get rid of them either. It’s not a good idea putting them out here. These are ‘problem officers.’ They’re the people who treat us the worst.”
Nearby store owners, in contrast, welcomed the officers’ arrival.
“Business is good here, but shoplifting is a never-ending problem,” said Ruby Guzman, behind the counter of 99 Cents Family Plus, owned by her husband. “Sometimes we try to chase them, or lock the door on them. But usually they get away.”
“It’s always a group,” Guzman said. “More police would definitely help to clamp down.”
The Gowanus Houses is just one of some fifteen NYCHA developments throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx receiving an influx of officers. Like most Housing Authority developments, the Gowanus properties consist of brown brick modest-height towers sprawled over multiple city blocks. Interweaving pathways, courtyards and playgrounds form the core of community gathering spaces for barbecues, birthdays, and everyday socializing.
But by nightfall, it’s another story.
“During the day, it’s fine,” said a resident at the corner of Douglass and Bond (his name? Nice try). “At night? It’s ‘bang, bang, bang.'”
The District Attorney, along with other elected officials, welcome the Mayor and Police Commissioner’s measures to help change this reality.
“This year, there have been 10 murders and 48 shootings in Brooklyn’s housing developments, accounting for more than 20 percent of the murders and shootings in the borough,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Thompson favors targeted policing that zeroes in on the known, violent areas, “to protect law-abiding residents who shouldn’t have to endure gunfire outside their windows.”
A long list of elected officials, including the Borough President and Public Advocate, agree.
“I have been meeting with NYCHA residents for the last month, and they are very concerned about crime in their communities,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.
“A comprehensive approach, including targeted police deployment, increased lighting and improvements to physical security infrastructure, as well as better outreach to tackle domestic violence and youth engagement issues will go a long way,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.
“Joe,” a Gowanus resident since the 1980s, was kind enough to at least offer a first-name–and a more nuanced take.
“Some will feel safer, while others will feel more threatened,” Joe said. “Plain and simple: some cops are assholes. So increased cops means increased chances of harassment for most of us. That’s all there is to it.”