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Watchtower: Eye-in-sky is talk of DUMBO

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There’s a new high-rise in DUMBO, but this one isn’t residential.

Police parked a two-story mobile patrol tower on Front Street between Adams and Pearl streets last week, directly beneath the Manhattan Bridge, puzzling residents of the quiet neighborhood who don’t think of the area as needing 24-hour surveillance.

Cops usually install the hydraulic towers, known as Sky Watch, in high-crime areas. The 20-foot-tall platforms, equipped with cameras and various sensors, offer police improved vantage points, while reminding crooks that they’re being watched.

In recent years, Sky Watch towers have been deployed in Harlem to combat drug trafficking. In February, police installed a surveillance tower on the corner of Nostrand and St. Marks avenues in Crown Heights for the same stated reason.

The latest Sky Watch installation is the talk of DUMBO, where the local population of artisans and trendsetters is growing accustomed to a beefed-up police presence. After a crime wave during the summer, extra officers — some from neighboring precincts — were called in as a show of force.

But never has the NYPD brought out the big gun — the Sky Watch.

“It’s always seemed very quiet in the streets here,” said Elizabeth Maher, a Boerum Hill resident who hangs out in DUMBO. “This neighborhood is very genteel.”

Naturally, there were lots of theories to explain the new police lookout, which is also surrounded by barricades and police cruisers and has caused the loss of at least five parking spaces (no small matter).

“It’s got to be because someone made a terror threat against the [Manhattan] bridge,” said one gawker as he left La Bagel Delight at the corner of Front and Adams streets.

Police officials said the deployment of the Sky Watch had nothing to do with terrorism, but was simply a response to two recent robberies on Front Street.

“It’s a safe neighborhood, and we want to keep it that way,” said Captain Alan Abel, commanding officer of the 84th Precinct. “There were a couple of robberies on Front Street earlier in the month, so as a response, Sky Watch was put in place.”

Community reaction is certainly mixed. Where some saw a police over-reaction, others saw a more secure neighborhood.

“If it makes people feel safe and secure, then it’s good,” said Tucker Reed, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District.

“It demonstrates that the 84th Precinct is taking these incidents very seriously. This kind of response is what the community was calling for.”

But others wondered whether an eye in the sky is the best way to keep the neighborhood safe — and prosperous.

“Yes, there were four burglaries in this building in the past week or two — but the tower doesn’t really seem that necessary,” said Jason Harding, a barista at the DUMBO General Store.

Others wondered whether the presence of the police tower would help the local gentry when it comes to selling those $1 million one-bedroom units.

“DUMBO does not have a reputation as a crime-infested neighborhood, so if people see the tower there they [think] it’s proactive and helpful,” said David Kramer, whose Hudson Companies built the J Condo tower on Jay Street.

“I don’t think it creates any negative impressions because people don’t approach DUMBO with concerns about crime.”

He added that for neighborhoods where “there is a [perception] about high crime, the Sky Watch can reaffirm those concerns.”

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Reader Feedback

Vinny from Staten Island says:
If this is the talk of DUMBO, why isn't anyone commenting on it?
April 8, 2008, 5:04 pm
J.T. from bushwick says:
well, NYC law enforcement has behaved in such a way over the years that we are often left in the dark as to why some decisions are made...is this to keep watch over the citizens of DUmbo...or something else that we, the people, once again aren't allowed to know about....? Dumbo??? 24 hour sky watch...? Hmmmm. In this day and age, many NYC residents actually don't feel safer with the NYPD presence looming overhead....
April 10, 2008, 4:49 pm
Earl from Bed-stuy says:
This is surprising because the area isnt known for high crime volume. These towers have alot to do with race. They are seen more in the black community. Im really tired of the police monitoring my behavior because the color of my skin.
Dec. 4, 2012, 7:10 pm

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