In the early 1990’s when I was a rookie officer in the now-defunct New York City Housing Police Department, I was often called to apartments for seemingly ordinary events such as water leaks. While this may not be considered a police matter, upon investigation, it is often discovered that the circumstances surrounding the water leak may require emergency personnel to respond. On numerous occasions, I discovered a person who had fallen in the bathtub and was unable to shut down the water and call for help. Other times, a person preparing dinner or washing dishes would succumb to an in-home mishap, or suffer a heart attack, and the faucet would overflow the sink. Only when the residents below noticed water dripping through their ceiling would the police be called, and the tragic discovery made in the apartment above. Or, overflowing water from an apartment where the residents were not at home would flood the apartment below. The police would be the responding agency to assure that there were no victims associated with the flooding other than property.
Because housing police patrol residential complexes, it is the duty of the officers to become familiar with the residents in the developments they are assigned to. As a rookie, I recall a senior officer making the observation that over the course of time, an active officer will notice that he is arresting the same ten to fifteen individuals over and over again in each neighborhood. The officer further stated that it behooves a cop new to an area to work all three tours of duty over a period of weeks and observe the comings and goings of the citizens on their beat. Beginning around 5:00 a.m. during the midnight tour, you will see people going to work on public transportation. A bit later, parents will escort their children to school bus stops. In the afternoons, starting at 3:00 p.m. or so, those same folks will begin to come home. By 9:00 p.m. on a warm, summer night, the working folks will start to go inside for the evening; the younger kids will go in later. His point to me was that in between the typical schedules of working adults and school aged children, the ten to fifteen repeat offenders will be on the street corners, in the playgrounds, or other common areas while everyone else is at work or school. In addition, there are unwanted visitors in public housing developments who buy drugs, commit robberies, burglaries, or worse. Officers who familiarize themselves with the routines of the residents they serve will spot those who do not live there and investigate their presence accordingly.
An observant and active officer will begin his tour by visiting all of the facilities located on his beat. Most of the public housing developments have health facilities, maintenance shops, community centers, pre-schools, and other social centers on the grounds. By speaking to those who operate the programs and the residents who patronize the facilities, and officer builds trust and keeps lines of communication open with them. Officers perform vertical patrols of the buildings and search the stairwells, roof landings, and roof tops for trespassers and others who may be engaged in law-breaking. Many buildings have active tenant patrols. These are residents who maintain a post in the lobby of their building, working in conjunction with the Housing Authority and in cooperation with the police, and screen visitors entering the building by signing them in and asking for identification. Patrol officers visit tenant patrols and sign their attendance records and inquire about any nuisances or occurrences. It is also important to attend regular community meetings to listen to and respond to the complaints of the residents and provide information on how various issues will be addressed by the police.
A Housing police officer will utilize field reports to alert maintenance about damaged locks on doors, shattered windows, broken lights, or poorly lit areas, downed fences and gates, and any other condition which leads to a lack of security. In addition, excessive graffiti, illegally dumped trash, uncollected garbage, and shattered windows lead outsiders to believe that there is a lack of oversight or weak law enforcement in the area and the building and grounds then become an attractive location for drug use or sales, robberies, burglaries, or large groups loitering in lobbies or obstructing pedestrian traffic. By maintaining close relationships with maintenance crews or other city agencies, community police officers can concentrate resources on these problematic concerns and improve the overall quality of life for the residents and reduce criminal activity.
End of Part II
About the Author: Michael J. Kannengieser is the author of the police thriller, The Daddy Rock. He is a retired New York City police officer who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. Michael worked as the Managing Editor for Fiction at The View from Here magazine, a U.K. based literary publication. Currently, he is employed at a performing arts college as an Instructional Technology Administrator. He has been published at The View from Here, and in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Michael is a contributor to Criminal Justice News. Click Here to buy a copy of Michael J. Kannengieser's new novel "The Daddy Rock."