New York police are told to take photographs of homeless people to 'shame' Mayor Bill de Blasio

Activists say homeless have been caught up in battle between police and mayor's office

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 13 August 2015 16:37 BST
A homeless man in Brooklyn
A homeless man in Brooklyn (Reuters)

New York’s homeless have found themselves at the centre of a dispute between police officials and the city’s political leadership after officers were told to take photograph of people sleeping rough in order to ‘shame’ the mayor.

The city’s police union has encouraged its members to take photographs of what it claims are the increasing numbers of homeless people in order to highlight the number of so-called “quality-of-life offences”.

But activists for homeless people say the police’s campaign is little more than abuse of some of the city’s most vulnerable.

This week, the police union, a frequent critic of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his policy of a less aggressive style of policing launched a Flickr album this week featuring the first photos from its members.

After years of declines, New York has seen increases in murders and other crimes in the past year.

The city's homeless population has also risen in recent years. City officials estimated that there were about 75,000 homeless people in New York this year, up from about 67,000 the year before, say reports.

“As you travel about the city of New York, please utilise your smartphones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity, and quality-of-life offences of every type,” Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins wrote in a letter obtained by the New York Post.

New York police leadership have long been proponents of the "broken windows" philosophy of policing.

The policy – as promoted by former mayor Rudolph Giuliani - calls for aggressive enforcement of small crimes like panhandling and vandalism, arguing they lead to more serious offences.

However, some of these tactics have been criticised as racially biased and Mr de Blasio has pressed for reforms.

The mayor was asked about the dispute with the union this week. He told reporters: "With all due respect to any union representative, I listen to Commissioner [William] Bratton."

He added: "That’s who’s running the NYPD. I have absolute faith in him and he has made abundantly clear – and I have pushed hard on this point as well – that we’re going to have very consistent quality-of-life enforcement all over this city for any kind of offence, and that includes if a homeless person commits it."

Police officers are prohibited from taking photos of people while on the job, but the union is encouraging picture-taking while off-duty.

The union is also soliciting photos from the families and friends of members.

“New York City has become a permissive place,” said Mr Mullins. “We are an open invitation to come here because it's okay to smoke marijuana, it's okay to urinate in public, it's okay to remain homeless in the street.”

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