LOWER EAST SIDE — Mayor Bill de Blasio said he supports the police practice of vertical patrols in public housing despite the risks.
Two NYPD officers were recently shot on one such patrol in The Bronx, and a jury Thursday convicted rookie officer Peter Liang of manslaughter for shooting and killing unarmed Akai Gurley during another patrol in 2014.
"Vertical patrols are necessary as part of keeping our public housing residents safe but we have to work constantly to do them the right way," de Blasio said Friday at an unrelated press conference. "And that means in a way that's respectful to the residents of that development, in a way that is communicative and understands the needs of the people in the development."
There is a growing sentiment that the patrols, where officers start on the roof and walk the stairwells of public housing and other buildings with a history of violence, should cease.
Gurley's family called for the NYPD to "permanently end all vertical patrols" in a letter Friday.
"We want justice beyond the courtroom. We want policy changes within the NYPD, to end the violence that police officers routinely inflict on our communities," Gurley's family wrote.
The Rev. Al Sharpton also questioned the use of the technique.
"It is clear that Peter Liang should never have had his gun out, he should never have been in that stairwell, and that we must look closely at so-called vertical patrols in public housing — a tactic that is far too similar to Stop-and-Frisk," Sharpton said in a statement.
De Blasio defended the tactic even when asked about the dangers officers face in conducting them.
"Every police officer knows there are dangers. And I admire each and every one of them for doing such important work in the face of those dangers," the mayor said.
"We have to be in our public housing developments to protect people, there's no question about it. But what we're doing now is making sure our officers have a lot of training, a lot of support."
Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has said "there is nothing routine" about vertical patrols.
"Encountering a perp with a gun is all too common during vertical patrol and it’s the reason that our members, like police officer Peter Liang, have weapons drawn while performing this job," Lynch said in a statement following the shooting of officers Patrick Espeut, 29, and Diara Cruz, 24, during a vertical patrol at Melrose Houses in The Bronx.
Liang's conviction will have "a chilling effect on police officers across the city because it criminalizes a tragic accident," Lynch said.
The mayor disagreed with that sentiment.
"I don't believe it will have a chilling effect," he said. "I think our officers are focused and doing their jobs well."