Some New York City police officers can count on one hand the number of times they have drawn a gun. Then there are the officers who patrol the city's 334 public housing complexes, says the New York Times. There are about 2,350 uniformed officers in the department's Housing Bureau, about 1,825 of whom are rank-and-file police officers. To some of them, drawing their guns, even with no present threat, is routine, a practice borne of habit or some internal gauge of an encounter that might go bad. Their bosses, unlike some police commanders around the U.S., permit it. In doing vertical patrols, the roof-to-ground sweeps through buildings, unholstering can be second nature.
It apparently was for a young officer on patrol last week in Brooklyn. In a darkened hallway, the officer's precaution turned fatal for an innocent young man. City officials said it was an accident when officer Peter Liang, 27, shot Akai Gurley, 28, in the chest, killing him. The notion of police officers patrolling inside public housing complexes with guns unholstered struck some as troubling, or even reckless. Police Commissioner William Bratton said officers were relied upon to use discretion, and that there was no “specific prohibition” against drawing a gun. In fact, he acknowledged, it was not uncommon for housing officers to do so, with good reason.