Tower Gives NYPD Eyes on the Street

Police respond to Harlem shootings by moving in surveillance tool

Last month, New York police installed a 25-foot surveillance tower in central Harlem after two women were shot on the corner of 131st and Lenox Avenue. The portable tower — one of 11 deployed around the state — is designed to provide police with a better vantage point for preventing crimes.


Inside the SkyWatch

Police say violence has decreased in the neighborhood since it was installed, although shootings continue nearby. Last month, 66-year-old Virginia Valree was shot in the leg by a stray bullet on 135th and Lenox Avenue. Two weeks ago, 22-year-old Kwame Dancy was fatally shot in the head in front of the Lenox Terrace apartment complex, one block from the tower.

Despite those incidents, police say that crime stats show the tower is helping — but they wouldn’t make those numbers available when requested by

The security tower, known as SkyWatch, operates 24 hours a day, with two police officers standing guard — one inside for surveillance, one outside for protection. If a crime is committed in the area, the officers can call for backup or respond as a team, depending on its proximity.

Each SkyWatch tower comes equipped with four black-tinted windows, roof-mounted flood lights, digital video recorder and customized surveillance cameras, according to ICX Technologies, the tower’s manufacturer.

ICX spokeswoman Melissa Woods says the police department owns eight towers that are moved sporadically throughout Manhattan, depending on the need for them.

The U.S. General Services Administration says the towers cost about $70,000. The price fluctuates based on added surveillance accessories. The police department says that although the security towers are expensive, they’re an important crimefighting tool.

“It gives the community a sense of safety to know someone is there,” said Capt. Steven Griffith, executive officer of the 32nd Precinct. “We get pretty much a good response everywhere it goes.”

Many residents in the Harlem neighborhood were pleased to see the SkyWatch tower installed.

Jerry Swails, a 63-year-old retired security guard, believes it is an “effective eye in the sky.” “If you got crime every week, that would deter some of the crime.”

Ajani Holm, a 31-year-old funeral maintenance worker, faults the police department for not installing the tower sooner.

“I’m not a cop hater,” said Holm. “I appreciate the fact they put it up, but they should have had it up a couple of years back.”

Holm, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 28 years, says the area used to be full of drug dealers and prostitutes. However, they are not as “prevalent today,” said Holm.

He worries, though, that if the tower is removed from the neighborhood, gun violence will increase.

Police, however, say they don’t have enough towers to provide one in every neighborhood that needs it at all times, and the one at 131st and Lenox could soon move on.

Assistant Chief Phillip Banks, who commands the patrol borough for Manhattan North, will make the decision on where the tower will be placed next, police say. Banks reviews crime reports to find current trends throughout the area and decide where the tower could do the most good.

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