With a Gun and a Camera
February 3, 2012 9:30 AM   Subscribe

"They stuck me at P.S.A. 7 in the South Bronx," he said, referring to Police Service Area No. 7 in the department’s housing bureau. "They cover all the housing projects in that area." It was dangerous work, performing vertical patrols — marching up and down staircases — watching for drug deals, responding to violent fights and domestic brawls, and worse. Two years passed, and Officer Bolfo brought something else to work, along with his radio and his gun. A camera.
posted by swift (33 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome, heartfelt shots of police work - thanks - Great post.
posted by mctsonic at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great photographs.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Those are fantastic shots, wow.
posted by penduluum at 9:51 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fantastic. Thanks.

I sincerely hope the officers identified in the photos don't get in trouble with the NYPD for this; I can only imagine that taking (or posing for, or knowingly allowing your fellows officers to take) photographs while on duty is frowned upon.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:55 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

So nice to see police on MeatFilter as people--some times doing their job with excellence, sometimes just doing it and sometimes, hopefully very seldom, failing.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:55 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow. Also, it's spectacular how much the super tower block idea of public housing failed, despite being widely implemented around the country in the 60s and 70s.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:57 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Great, humanizing photos. These people are definitely made of stronger stuff than I; more than one of those shots made me break a cold sweat.

Outstanding. I'd like to see these get more exposure (as it were).
posted by kinnakeet at 9:58 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, the photos of the kid showing off his backflips and the girls flirting with the cops really warmed my heart. You so rarely hear of positive police-civilian interactions, particularly in housing projects, where the cop-resident dynamic is often spoken of in terms of prison guards and prisoners (by both sides).
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:59 AM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow, amazing work in cramped conditions. Most of these pictures left me wondering how he managed to shoot them. Especially the one where they're rescuing the woman making a suicide attempt.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:02 AM on February 3, 2012

The photographer's site has a lot more shots of his time with the NYPD.
posted by swift at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Very moving work, I could feel how the officer felt in the last shot.
posted by tommasz at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2012

Interesting how the bio on his website doesn't mention his time with the NYPD at all.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2012

What's up with photo 4. Is the caption BS and it's posed, or is an officer really focusing on taking a photo while another officer has gun drawn looking for an armed suspect?
posted by willnot at 10:30 AM on February 3, 2012

Great photographs. I wonder what kind of camera he was using.... seems like a big SLR would be bulky for that kind of situation, but the quality of the images makes it seem like the only choice.
posted by cell divide at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2012

is an officer really focusing on taking a photo while another officer has gun drawn looking for an armed suspect?

Apparently he took a bunch of these photographs after retiring and returning as a civilian, doing ride-alongs.

New Yorkers may not know this, but the NYPD, like most police departments will let any member of the public do a shift with their officers. (You have to schedule it in advance, though.) They try to make you wear a bullet-proof vest, but you can usually say no.

It's not fun exactly, but I think it's important to do whenever you move to a new precinct.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Even though there are a few bad apples, most law enforcement officers are good people doing a tough job. We need them. Good post, thanks for this.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:09 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you liked these photos you'd also like the book Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, a Harvard educated third generation cop in roughly the same area.
posted by jonmc at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Amazing. Thanks!
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:36 AM on February 3, 2012

Very powerful stuff. It reminds me of the fascinating things I saw in the days I used to go on ride alongs with officers on a regular basis.

Notice how young these officers are. That is often the case.

One photographed activity I did not like one bit, though, was number 8:

Officers update their memo books to make sure all three accounts match.
posted by bearwife at 11:37 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Sticherbeast at 12:06 PM on February 3, 2012

Officers update their memo books to make sure all three accounts match.

Wow. I'd imagine that if the tables were turned it would make them sound like they were making up a story. Could be innocent, but smells fishy. It's stuff like this that makes people not trust authorities.

Side note, i really hate how those in power have stopped allowing more recording of what goes on day to day, good and bad. Especially with the military and how some police agencies have tried to make it illegal to photograph or video cops. I know a lot of it didn't work out the greatest for the military during the Vietnam era, because it showed a lot of dead soldiers and civilians, and actions that were pretty crappy, but now it feels like all we see that isn't leaked is simply pro-war propaganda (soldier with a puppy! Soldier with a little kid laughing!). Showing both sides, good and bad isn't a bad thing, it humanizes both sides, and that's not bad either as it might make us less of a 'us vs them' world. :P
posted by usagizero at 12:28 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Excellent document of America's crumbling infrastructure and the defacto institutional classism/racism perpetuated by that.

2. I wonder what would happen if someone photographed the cop shooting photos. I understand they hate that for some reason.
posted by Renoroc at 12:32 PM on February 3, 2012

Officers update their memo books to make sure all three accounts match.

Yes, if they're doctoring or back-dating entries in order to make them align, then that is definitely not kosher. But, "Hey, what time was that call we responded to, I didn't get a chance to jot it down," that's actually okay and maybe desirable (when the alternative is the officer has no note or an incorrect note of his/her activity, if and when an investigator is trying to piece together their whereabouts at a later time). I kind of assumed the caption to that photo meant to refer to the latter, since it would be pretty brazen misconduct otherwise.

As for ride-alongs – I could be wrong but my understanding (as someone who has done them) is the NYPD basically only lets media members, people in law enforcement/related roles, and students in relevant areas (public policy, criminal justice, law, etc.) do ride-alongs. Still, there's enough flexibility that most people could probably sneak in. I did one in Brooklyn, went to a violent domestic dispute that a lieutenant broke up and then drove around with blood smeared on his white shirt the rest of the tour, responded with lights and sirens to a shooting that seemed to summon about a hundred cops within minutes, and, uh, drove past one particular Dunkin' Donuts repeatedly and chatted with a rotating cast of police officers who were on their "breaks."
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:50 PM on February 3, 2012

In addition to his blog the NYT article links to other photographs at Reportage by Getty Images (where he is now a photographer).
posted by ericb at 1:09 PM on February 3, 2012

These are great. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2012

His bio at Reportage by Getty Images:
"Antonio Bolfo [born 1981] is based in New York City.

Antonio Bolfo was born and raised in New York City to Korean and Italian immigrants. He grew up drawing, painting, and sculpting, and went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Film/ Animation/ Video.

After graduating, Antonio went on to become the Senior Animator at the Cambridge based videogame development company Harmonix. There he worked on Playstation games such as Amplitude, AntiGrav, and Guitar Hero. After leaving the videogame industry, Antonio studied and graduated from the International Center of Photography photojournalism program.

He was the recipient of the New York Times Foundation Scholarship and a winner of the 2009 World Wide Photography Gala Awards. His clients include the New York Times, TIME Magazine, New York Times Magazine, and International Herald Tribune."
Interview: Photojournalist and Former Cop Antonio Bolfo.

His Vimeo video: Operation IMPACT [03:41].
posted by ericb at 1:20 PM on February 3, 2012

Wow, very good photos. He has a great eye.
posted by carter at 5:26 PM on February 3, 2012

it's spectacular how much the super tower block idea of public housing failed

That's what I was thinking. Those buildings look like laboratories to see just how dispirited and terrorized people can be made to be. Can you imagine facing those stairwells every day? Even if they were painted in lovely pastel colors instead of graffiti? Grim. And god know what nightmare of poverty, drug addiction, and mental illness leads a person to live in a place like that apartment with the shit-smeared walls. Imagine trying to raise kids next door.
posted by Fnarf at 5:42 PM on February 3, 2012

I have a relative who went through something similar to this "Operation IMPACT" in the south bronx. Newly minted officers thrown into the fire.

I hope they have better counseling services now, and that the officers involved take them up on it at a higher rate ( ideally it would be mandatory ), than back in the late 80's / early 90's.
posted by cloax at 5:42 PM on February 3, 2012

anotherpanacea - really?

bearwife, dixiecupdrinking, who/what department did you contact and how did you spin a ride-along? I'm actually really curious to see what a regular shift is like, and compare the differences between a cop doing a beat on Vancouver's DTES vs West Van vs maybe Surrey or New West.

That said, a COPS show playing it straight doing episodes in different cities/different socioeconomic neighbourhoods might be able to get legs. ie., go through the range of small town sheriffs/local PD* from cocky stereotypical bastards to competent professionals just doing a job to folks who're trying to look after their community and trying to do good (whether it works out or not).

*I admit I've got a dog in this fight; the local PD when I was in undergrad in a tiny little town were pretty (bad) stereotypical but they weren't the worst of the worst.
posted by porpoise at 9:16 PM on February 3, 2012

I'm not sure it would be the same in a small town, porpoise, but in big cities, yeah. I learned about it while working as an investigator for the CCRB. Here's the form for the NYPD: anyone over eighteen with a photo ID can do it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 AM on February 4, 2012

World class.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2012

Really outstanding series. I came across this last year I think and thought to myself, damn, how did he get access like that. Then in the NYT article I read he was an actual cop. Not sure why he leaves that out in his bio either. Actually after reading that interview I guess he didn't shoot it all while working.
posted by WickedPissah at 12:22 PM on February 4, 2012

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