There were lots of assignments during my years as an auxiliary police officer. Most of them were walking a beat to bring a uniformed presence to one part of the 20th precinct so that armed officers could be assigned to difficult neighborhoods.

For part of my time of service I was working on my master’s thesis, a study of the crime of robbery in the “two oh”. The precinct building had moved from the Lincoln Center neighborhood to West 82nd Street. I believe that because I was an auxiliary police officer (APO) and a graduate student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice I was, with some minimal resistance, given access to police records for a study of robberies in both neighborhoods before and after the move.

It was interesting work digging through hundreds of handwritten police reports, occasionally recognizing a victim’s name or an officer’s name. The thought was that where there were more uniforms (near the new building) there would be less crime than before the move. I remember picking robbery because that is personal. It is the taking of money or property from a person under force or threat of force.

What did I learn? I learned that like in other much more expensive studies, the number of officers on patrol or coming and going has close to zero effect on this crime. There had been a small statistically insignificant increase in robberies in lobbies and hallways in the new precinct building neighborhood accompanied by a similar decrease in street robberies, but nothing else.

So, APOs were likely not effective in deterring robbery. We were however very useful in helping our neighbors and doing work that would tie up regular POs.

For example, in the early 70’s we were mustered by the community affairs officer who supervised the auxiliary unit and given a different kind of assignment, one that was apparently going on citywide. We were tasked to enter and assess fallout shelters across the precinct. These shelters, designated in the late forties and fifties by the sign below, were expected to give us a feeling of reassurance through cover and basic supplies in case of a nuclear attack. I don’t think anyone believed that they were going to make a difference but there they were in apartment building basements, schools and plenty of other structures.


These spaces were supposed to be locked. When we got to them, of course, most were not. And they no longer contained the supplies originally placed in them. The green drums, bearing the civil defense symbol, which were supposed to contain water, were all dry. The cases of crackers, if they were still there, were crumbs and bore the teeth marks of animals. The boxes containing syringes and medicines were either gone or the syringes and meds were gone with the boxes left behind.

We did our inventories and moved on to the next shelter.

Today, many many buildings still have the signs on them or in them. Like my building in Forest Hills there is no evidence of where the shelter space actually existed and there are certainly no supplies. But there are still signs.

We now prepare for terrorism, mostly domestic terrorism if we’re honest, and spaces are maintained with water and the like in case of lengthy sheltering in place. We are still afraid of something outside ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Shelters

  1. I always notice the “Fallout Shelter” sign when I am back in FH. There is a scene in the movie “The Best Man” between Cliff Robertson and the late Shelly Berman that takes place in Fallout Shelter in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel.

    You can see the water drums and other Shelter supplies and signage.


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