NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is considering decentralizing the NYPD’s Housing Bureau in a potentially historic move to give local precinct commanders authority over the city’s more than 300 housing projects, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The recommendation is the most dramatic to surface since Bratton hired focus groups and private consultants to help him “re-engineer” the NYPD. Bratton's final decisions will be announced next week.
“It makes little sense in this day and age for the Housing Bureau to stand alone and not be fully integrated with the precincts that serve the area around them,” one police official explained.
Sources said consultants found Housing officers spent considerable energy on so-called vertical patrols, where officers go up and down stairwells to keep them clear of criminals.
They also found many officers were spending too much time inside their patrol cars and not enough time interacting with tenants, which would build trust and help gather intelligence about wrongdoing.
The Big Apple’s projects have ostensibly been patrolled by their own police force since the city’s Housing Authority was created in 1934 under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who hired security guards to police them.
In 1952, the guards were formally turned into the Housing Police, and remained an independent force until they were merged into the larger NYPD, along with the Transit Police, following contentious debates that hinged on fears that police coverage of projects and subways would diminish.
But since then, the NYPD has maintained strong and separate Housing and Transit Bureaus, each with a chief in charge who is responsible for keeping some 750,000 residents and millions of subway riders safe.
Under the proposal Bratton is considering, Housing officers presently assigned to the “public service areas” will continue to be assigned there, but their territory will become another geographical “sector” within each precinct.
“Housing officers would remain the first to respond in developments, but if none were available, sector cars from elsewhere would then respond,” said an official familiar with the proposal. “And the sharing of information and responsibility for enhancing initiatives would be broader and interactive with the local command.”
A former top NYPD official said the topic of decentralizing the Housing Bureau has surfaced numerous times over the years, but was quickly beaten back.
“You could never consider making this kind of move before because of the politics, even though there would be considerable savings on resources,” the official explained. “But with crime down across the board, and the political climate being very different, the time finally has come.”
In some ways, the process has already started.
In recent years, Housing Bureau brass have shed roughly 20 projects, handing them out to local precincts with the expectation that they could better deal with them.
Overall, crime in the city’s housing projects was down 6.4 percent last year, but it is up about 22 percent during the last five years.
Mayor Bill de Blasio pumped roughly $200 million last year into improving safety at the city’s public housing complexes, including projects that extended hours at community centers, added security cameras, improved lighting and provided other upgrades.
UPDATE: Hours after this story ran, NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis released the following statement:
"There are no plans to alter the current status of the NYPD’s Housing Bureau. The present command and reporting structures for the Housing Bureau will remain in place as they have been under the current model."