Since November 2014, when Akai Gurley was shot and killed by New York City police officer Peter Liang during a routine “vertical patrol” in the stairwell of his Louis H. Pink housing project, some public housing residents across the city can’t help but wonder, am I next?
Despite Gurley’s death and officer Liang’s February 2016 manslaughter conviction for killing him, vertical patrols continue and people have very complicated feelings about them. According to NYPD Lieutenant Tarik Shephard, vertical patrols are regularly conducted within both public and private housing developments. During these patrols, officers “make sure that no illegal activity is going on,” Shephard said. Vertical patrolling “is not a high-tech thing,” he said, but a procedure requiring a “simple trailing of the stairway from the first floor all the way up to the top floor.”
Cydney Tucker of NY City Lens caught up with several local residents of the Frederick Douglass housing projects recently, to ask them about how they feel about their community’s weekly vertical patrols.
Located between 100th and 104th Street, the Frederick Douglass housing projects consist of 17 buildings and approximately 5,000 residents. The projects sit less than a block away from the city’s 24th police precinct and are subject to random weekly vertical patrols by local officers.
Andrew Williams, 23
Williams has lived in the Frederick Douglass housing project for eighteen years. Like a number of others, he mistakenly thinks that residents are not allowed on the stairwells there:
“I feel safe, but it comes to the point where you can’t abuse the law also. So you can’t be in the staircase either cause that’s the law too. You gotta go by what the law says or they’ll arrest you for trespassing.”
Randy Garcia, 14; Allison Prendardast, 12
Garcia has lived in the Frederick Douglass housing projects his entire life; Prendardast moved in with her family three years ago. Vertical patrolling doesn’t mean much to these adolescents.
Ritchie Bonilla, 25
Bonilla has lived in the Frederick Douglass housing projects his entire life. Unlike some residents, Bonilla doesn’t mind the police presence:
“I feel that they’re not really threatening me. You can hang out in the stairwell, they’re not gonna mess with you for sitting down on the phone, or talking to somebody, or hanging out. They just have a problem if you’re like drinking a beer or smoking weed, then you know they’re gonna enforce that in their best way of doing so. For somebody else they may feel unsafe or safer, but to me, it doesn’t really matter.”
Courtney Nancing, 20
Nancing has lived in the Frederick Douglass Housing Project her entire life, and her closest friends all live in the same building. To her, vertical patrolling is unnecessary:
“They usually come really often. People usually be smoking in the stairway. They should be here less, they’re here like every week. I’m not scared—I mean I know everyone who be hanging out in the stairwell, so it’s safe. They don’t need to be here that often.”
Louisa Guzman, 62
Guzman has lived in the Frederick Douglass housing projects since 1958, when the projects were originally built. To her, the police don’t come enough:
“I don’t think they come enough in this building at all. I don’t even see them. Cause on my floor, the kids, they’re always smoking weed in the stairwell. So what I do, I guess I’m a bitch, I take peanut butter and I put it on the rim of the door so when they open the door they go ‘Ah,’ and then they don’t go in the stairwell. That keeps them away. The thing is, I don’t mind. I was a teenager. I’ve done it all. I grew up in the sixties. But you don’t do stuff where you live.”