New York police union 'shames' homeless with photos

A photo posted to the Sergeants Benevolent Association's Flickr account.
A photo posted to the Sergeants Benevolent Association's Flickr account.SBA/FLICKR

NEW YORK (AFP) - A police union has been accused of shaming New York's poorest and most vulnerable by commissioning and sharing online photographs of the city's homeless, sparking a furious backlash.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) has responded to rising homelessness by launching the "Peek-a-Boo, We See you too!" campaign on photo-sharing website Flickr.

It is the latest development in the union's criticism of Mayor Bill de Blasio - a progressive Democrat increasingly under fire over allegations that life New York is on the skids.

In a letter to members, SBA president Ed Mullins says failed policies have seen homicides and homelessness rise, diminishing New York's reputation as the safest large city in America.

His answer is to urge off-duty cops, friends, relatives and the public to take pictures of the most vulnerable.

"Please utilise your smartphones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity, and quality of life offences of every type," Mullins wrote.

Pictures emailed to the union have been posted on its Flickr account. Mullins said a written complaint would be submitted to public officials.

The pictures are accompanied by captions such as "bed and breakfast" and "disgusting," and feature one of a sleeping man apparently taken by someone leaning right over his face.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 58,761 homeless people spent each night in shelters in June, up from 53,615 in January 2014, the month de Blasio took office.

But if the police union said the point was to raise awareness, it has been slammed online.

"Tactics to publicly shame the homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, cannot move towards positive change," wrote one account holder on Flickr.

"How insensitive and idiotic can you guys get?" asked another user.

De Blasio, asked about homelessness earlier this week, quoted from figures in February that showed an annual decrease of the number of people who live entirely on the street.

The mayor said he had invested heavily in "a set of strategies that could really make a difference... and I think you're going to see more and more impact from that."