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The Last Neighborhood Cops

The Last Neighborhood Cops: The Rise and Fall of Community Policing in New York Public Housing

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Last Neighborhood Cops
    Book Description:

    In recent years, community policing has transformed American law enforcement by promising to build trust between citizens and officers. Today, three-quarters of American police departments claim to embrace the strategy. But decades before the phrase was coined, the New York City Housing Authority Police Department (HAPD) had pioneered community-based crime-fighting strategies.The Last Neighborhood Copsreveals the forgotten history of the residents and cops who forged community policing in the public housing complexes of New York City during the second half of the twentieth century. Through a combination of poignant storytelling and historical analysis, Fritz Umbach draws on buried and confidential police records and voices of retired officers and older residents to help explore the rise and fall of the HAPD's community-based strategy, while questioning its tactical effectiveness. The result is a unique perspective on contemporary debates of community policing and historical developments chronicling the influence of poor and working-class populations on public policy making.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5235-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Introduction: The “Last Neighborhood Cops,” Community Policing, and the History of Law Enforcement in Urban America
    (pp. 1-21)

    Mary Alfson paused, hunting for the right phrase. She was trying to capture for her grandson, Nicholas, how she and her neighbors in her South Bronx public housing development had viewed the police at the explosive close of the 1960s. Recalling the Housing Police who had patrolled the projects in those years, she settled on a simile to express her emotions, still forceful after four decades, about law enforcement in a neighborhood that had once epitomized bleak urban realities. “The officers,” she pronounced, leaning in for emphasis, “were like family.”¹

    This nostalgia may surprise many today, particularly against the backdrop...

  5. 1 “Our Buildings Must Be Patrolled by Foot”: Policing Public Housing and New York City Politics, 1934–1960
    (pp. 23-41)

    On an unseasonably warm October evening in 1941 on Manhattan’s West Side, the residents of New York City’s second-largest black neighborhood, San Juan Hill, took to the streets for a block party. A swing band led by local son “Hubbie” James—soon to become the trumpeter for the nation’s first black marine battalion—roused on the dancing until the guest of honor, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, mounted the podium. “Farewell to the slums,” La Guardia proclaimed, gesturing to the district’s notorious tenements, whose slated demolition would make way for a bold housing development to be designed by three of the...

  6. 2 “A Paradox in Urban Law Enforcement”: Residents, Officers, and the Making of Community Policing in NYCHA, 1960–1980
    (pp. 43-77)

    On January 10, 1953, forty-seven “special Housing officers” began patrolling twelve New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes for the first time. They were dressed not in the gray attire of watchmen but in new blue uniforms indistinguishable, except for an identifying arm patch, from those worn by the regular New York Police Department (NYPD). From a distance, one might easily have mistaken a Housing Officer for a New York City cop; up close, however, there were important differences—differences that tenants and officers both knew went far beyond the uniform.¹ The Authority, aiming to build a police force suited...

  7. 3 A Confluence of Crises: The 1970s and the Undermining of Community Policing
    (pp. 79-117)

    Despite its popularity, community policing in New York’s public housing stumbled badly in the 1970s. The political and economic turmoil of that decade not only destabilized the individual lives of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents and police officers but also disrupted the delicate relationship between them. Attempting to weather the hard times, each group adopted strategies at odds with the other’s interests. For residents, making ends meet now often meant “hustling”—turning to an underground economy that deepened as formal jobs disappeared. But hustling tenants also had reason to conceal much about their daily lives from the Authority...

  8. 4 The End of Community Policing, 1980–1995
    (pp. 119-159)

    The most extensive and sustained experiment in community policing in urban America would not survive the 1980s. An outside study of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) drew a conclusion that many residents had already arrived at for themselves: community policing as it had been practiced for years in the Authority’s complexes was now merely, in the report’s words, “an empty dream.” As the strategy broke down, crime soared. In a single year, 1985, NYCHA’s crime rate jumped 21 percent. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, public housing became less safe than New York City as a whole for the first...

  9. 5 A Return to Origins and the Merger, 1990–1995: Losing, Saving—and Losing the Housing Police Again
    (pp. 161-172)

    At the same time that tenant leaders were pushing NYCHA) to return to the days of sure and speedy evictions, the Housing Authority Police Department (HAPD) and the Authority were seeking to restore the effective community policing practices that had prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s. A gale of public outrage over crime had helped make government resources for such efforts available through two new public policy initiatives: New York’s Safe Streets, Safe City plan and HUD’s Drug Elimination Program. For NYCHA’s managers and HAPD’s brass, the resulting infusion of manpower and cash made possible one last effort to save...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 173-178)

    “The merge,” as former HAPD officers call it, did not mean the end of cops being assigned to the Authority’s developments. The Housing Bureau, a new division within the New York Police Department, absorbed the HAPD’s duties. The roughly 1,800 uniformed officers detailed to the Bureau are now entrusted with the task of providing for the security of the city’s sprawling public housing. Although much of the community ethos of the Housing Authority Police Department’s best years continues to thrive in the Bureau, there are more troubling signs of rupture between tenants and police as well.

    Getting a handle on...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 179-226)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 227-233)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 234-235)