Off-duty NYPD officers hired by Manhattan neighborhood to protect businesses

Some businesses and property owners on 8th Ave between 35th Street and 38th Street in Manhattan say they’re fed up with what they see as a drug and homeless problem.

Barbara Blair with the non-profit Garment District Alliance says on some days the group’s sanitation team finds dozens of needles.

She and business owners say the problem makes retail customers and employees feel unsafe, and that, they say, means fewer profits.

"If you have six men who look kind of sketchy all hanging out in front of your store all day long," Blair says, "Or they erupt in a fight and spill into your store… no one wants to go in there anymore."

The Garment District Alliance is now working with property owners in the area who’ve come together to hire private security.

But in this case, private security means off-duty NYPD officers, armed and in uniform.

Steve Kaufman, president of the real estate firm Kaufman Organization, says it's "unfortunate... that landlords have to pay for private duty police officers in a city like this where we have a wonderful police force."

Kaufman Organization is one of three real estate companies that are now paying, in total, about $8,000 a week for private detail.

"I felt it was the best thing for our business to do," Kaufman says.

Matthew Mandell, assent manager at GFP Real Estate agrees, saying, "People felt unsafe in the neighborhood."

He says their retailers would "send pictures of people doing drugs in front of the building… [and] pictures of homeless people sleeping in front of their doors."

The collection of property owners tells FOX 5 News that between the hours of 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday, a hired pair will walk these three blocks on 8th Avenue— one, an off-duty cop and the other a private unarmed security guard.

Though during two separate afternoon visits to the neighborhood, FOX 5 News crews did not witness any of these pairs in action.

A man named James, who is homeless, tells us cops and private guards seem to focus "all their energy on panhandlers that are not harming anybody."

He says the guards and cops will tell him "not to panhandle… not to stand on the block."

"I said, ‘It’s a free country— what do you mean I can’t stand on this block?"

That’s when he says they try to move him. But James says there’s "nowhere to go."

"If you’re homeless it’s like you’re supposed to just vanish and die."

Midway through the interview with James, Fox 5 crews noticed that the business they were standing in front of— a 7/11 store that’s not a tenant of the businesses hiring security— significantly increased the volume on their outdoor speakers playing opera music.

Kaufman says he understands the point of view of some of the homeless individuals, and he believes that both he city’s Department of Homeland Services and the NYPD are "trying."

But business owners do think the city could do more.

"I think people are choosing the streets rather than shelters," says Matthew Mandell, "because the shelter system is not what it should be."

In the two months since they hired off-duty officers, business owners say it has worked.

"It seems to be doing quite well," Kaufman says.

"If people feel like someone's keeping an eye on things— even if they're just standing there in a police uniform," Mandell added, "I think it makes a difference."

Fox 5 tried to ask NYPD officials about the issue at their press conference Wednesday but was told there would be no off-topic questions.

In a statement, Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, says public safety is the mayor’s "top priority" but says that reducing crime "won’t happen overnight."

He added that off-duty cops have assisted New Yorkers for the past 25 years by supplementing "the good work of our officers patrolling the streets every single day."