IMPACT: Life on the Housing Beat / Antonio Bolfo
Exhibit opening, screening, & talk
Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 7:30 PM
Moderated by Ed Conlon, former NYPD detective and author of Blue Blood
I was a police officer from 2006 to 2008 in the NYPD. Four days after graduating from Police Academy I was ordered to PSA 7, a housing precinct in the South Bronx that patrols some of America’s most crime ridden housing projects. Prior to this, I had six months of Police Academy classroom training, along with some gym sessions where they made us run in circles with five-minute intervals of punching and kicking. Our firearms training consisted of one week of shooting at immobile targets at the NYPD shooting range. We were as green as could be, and like other Impact officers I hit the ground running with little to no knowledge of how to operate on the street. Yet we were expected to apprehend some of the toughest and most intelligent people in the city. We were expected to solve family disputes, console the parents of murdered children, and entertain the neighborhood drunk. The majority of what we encountered was negative, since no one calls the police when they’re happy. We had no choice but to learn fast, but learning comes from making mistakes, and unfortunately we all made a lot of them.
Despite some of the shortcomings, I loved police work and instantly felt camaraderie, excitement, and sense of adventure. I think many people who choose to become police officers do so with some optimism and hope that they can make a difference. But unfortunately, in a community like South Bronx Housing, the reality comes crashing down on you very fast. It only takes a few weeks for any romanticized view of community policing to get thrown out the window and be replaced by a fortifying mentality of hostility and resentment that many officers working in the ghetto feel.
There was a substantial amount of depression in the unit and at the precinct in general, but no one would ever admit it out of fear it would be taken as a sign of weakness. People deal with depression in a number of ways, some take to alcohol, others to infidelity. For me it was photography that helped ease the burden. Although I loved police work, I soon found myself wanting to take photographs of police work more than doing the work itself. It started to feel more important and useful, and it was a fusion of everything that I had come to love. We all joined the NYPD in search of something, and I found it in the hallways, stairs, and apartments of the housing projects.
All photos © Antonio Bolfo.