New York City’s escalating homeless crisis has led to the revival of the controversial “vertical patrols” by the NYPD. The homeless have sought refuge in public housing hallways, igniting a debate on safety and human dignity.
Mayor Eric Adams, during a recent visit to Abraham Lincoln Houses in Harlem, spoke to Greer Smith, a resident who revealed the unsettling reality of vagrants residing in her building’s hallways and stairwells. “When the mayor came, there was a man here sitting right out front of my door with a knife in his hand. I mean, what’s that all about?” said Smith.
The term “vertical patrols” refers to the NYPD’s practice of floor-by-floor sweeps in NYCHA buildings, a method initially employed to curb violence in these facilities. It’s worth recalling the practice was significantly scaled back following the 2014 fatal police shooting of unarmed Akai Gurley in East New York’s Pink Houses. Since then, officers have primarily responded to 911 calls inside public housing, reducing their regular presence in stairwells.
In response to the current crisis, Mayor Adams announced an initiative to reestablish interior patrols. “So we’re going to do an initiative like we did in the subway system where we’re going to do verticals and inspections in the hallways. People are not supposed to live like this,” Adams said in a video posted on TikTok.
However, this approach raises concerns about potential ramifications, and some have called for an exploration of alternative solutions to the homelessness crisis. Critics argue that using police forces to address homelessness can be counterproductive and further marginalize an already vulnerable group.
Dave Giffen, the Deputy Executive Director for Policy at Coalition for the Homeless, criticized the move, stating, “Criminalizing people for having no place to go is not only inhumane, it solves nothing. Police are not outreach workers, and homelessness is not a crime.”
In contrast, Kecia Rampersand, a resident of St. Mary’s Houses in the Bronx, supports the mayor’s plan, stating, “That’s a great idea. We’re not secure. We’re not safe.”
As the city grapples with this sensitive issue, it becomes critical to balance safety concerns with a comprehensive and humane response to homelessness. While the NYPD and the mayor’s office have yet to comment on criticisms, the situation calls for collaborative solutions involving policy revisions, increased social support, and community involvement.