New York Post
July 6, 2012

Inside NYPD’s perilous sweeps of high-rise project buildings


The stairwells are dark and dingy, usually reeking of urine and other filth.

They are rife with drug dealers, pit bulls and armed trespassers — with each landing posing a fresh threat.

Every day around the clock, uniformed NYPD cops assigned to the Housing Division conduct roof-to-lobby sweeps known as "vertical patrols" in a bid to keep the projects as safe as possible.

"It's the most dangerous job on patrol," said a cop of protecting public housing, where 20 percent of the city's violent crimes are committed.

"Every step, every corner you turn, you don't know what you're going to run into. Your heart is always in your mouth. It's scary, nerve-wracking."

The NYPD cop whose bulletproof vest saved him from certain death at the Seward Park Houses had just begun a vertical patrol with his partner when he nearly took a bullet to the heart.

The searches all begin the same way. Two officers ride the elevator to the top floor and walk up to the roof — the most treacherous part of the process.

"That landing is the most dangerous spot in the building, without a doubt," said another source. "No one is supposed to be up there, and if they are, they have the higher ground. You've got junkies hanging out there, drug paraphernalia. Dealers can hide their guns there."

Keeping as quiet as possible is key to staying alive. "You turn the radio way down, put your keys in your pocket, tiptoe on the steps," the source said.

Once the roof is clear, the officers split up between the two stairwells and go floor by floor — peeking out into each hallway in unison and sometimes meeting in the middle.

"If I pop out and my partner doesn't, then I'm running to those stairs because he most likely encountered somebody and it could be trouble," said one police source.

As the cops work their way to street level, they must stop, question and possibly frisk whomever they encounter along the way.

"You could confront someone with a gun, you could confront a pit bull. You could confront a group. Every one of those scenarios is dangerous," said another Housing cop.

For the past year, the NYPD has been conducting "surges" on Friday and Saturday nights — maneuvers that combine housing and precinct cops to conduct beefed- up vertical patrols in hardscrabble projects.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the biggest threat is the interaction with potential perps.

"When officers challenge somebody, obviously they put their lives at risk," Browne said.

In the past 28 days, 35 people have been shot during 32 incidents in public housing, cops said.

"Vertical patrols are among the most dangerous kinds of police work . . . You never know what's lurking above the next landing," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association boss Patrick Lynch.

Additional reporting by Jessica Simeone