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The Last Neighborhood Cops

The Rise and Fall of Community Policing in New York Public Housing

Fritz Umbach

Publication Year: 2011

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 Cops reveals 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xi

Early in my research for this book, one of the Housing Authority residents who generously sat for several interviews gestured to the neighbor-filled playground in front of her development and said—riffing off the African proverb popularized by Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book—“It takes a courtyard to raise a kid...

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pp. 1-22

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...

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1. “Our Buildings Must Be Patrolled by Foot”: Policing Public Housing and New York City Politics, 1934–1960

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pp. 23-42

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...

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2. “A Paradox in Urban Law Enforcement”: Residents, Officers, and the Making of Community Policing in NYCHA, 1960–1980

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pp. 43-78

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...

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3. A Confluence of Crises: The 1970s and the Undermining of Community Policing

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pp. 79-118

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...

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4. The End of Community Policing, 1980–1995

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pp. 119-160

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...

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5. A Return to Origins and the Merger, 1990–1995: Losing, Saving—and Losing the Housing Police Again

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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...

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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...


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pp. 179-226


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pp. 227-233

About the Author, Further Reading

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813552354
E-ISBN-10: 0813552354
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813549064

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 5 illustrations.
Publication Year: 2011