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Fearful of election unrest, some Manhattan buildings are beefing up security

Macy's flagship in Midtown was boarded up this summer. Plywood went back up in case there's unrest tomorrow after the election, and some residential buildings with retail are taking similar steps.

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If you live in Manhattan, there’s a small chance you may see an unfamiliar sight tomorrow night: A guard patrolling in front of your apartment building.

That’s because it’s not just stores like Macy’s and Nike that are taking precautions out of concerns over Election Day unrest. Some New York City residential buildings are beefing up security in case there is violence after the results start to come in.

Real estate management companies told Brick Underground that some Manhattan buildings are adding security guards and those with retail tenants are boarding up windows to prevent broken windows and looting.

It's a response to fears that NYC could see a repeat of the destruction of property that grew out of the outage this summer over the killing of Black people. However, management company executives say these fears may be overblown—one called it “hysteria.” Another said the move could inadvertently escalate violence.

Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro Management, says out of the 145 co-op and condo buildings his company manages, about 10 to 12 will get guards. These are Manhattan buildings in high-trafficked areas with ground-floor retail spaces. “Big glass buildings invite big rocks,” he says.

Buildings are basing their decision on what they saw this summer—Wolfe notes that the buildings that had problems with breaking and entering are taking preventative measures.

The NYPD issued a statement advising property managers to treat Election Day as a high-traffic event like New Year’s Eve, and Wolfe says that amid the response to the memo there’s “some hysteria” that’s been amped up by media reports.

Still, he points out, this summer “we had cars pull up, and people get out and break the glass of a store window and try to get inside of a [residential] building. It was scary stuff.”  

For its part, the NYPD says it is better prepared now for unrest. Members underwent crowd control training in anticipation of election protests, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a memo in mid-October.

The department has advised store owners to remove things like trash cans and outdoor furniture that could be used as projectiles or impede pedestrian traffic. According to CBS, on the advice of the NYPD, most stores along Fifth Avenue are not boarding up their windows; however some are hiring private security or off-duty cops.

It’s not a major expense for a residential building to add a guard for a night or two. Adam Frisch, managing principal at Lee & Associates Residential NYC, which represents small building owners in Manhattan, put the cost at $300 to $500, depending on the level of security.

Frisch says large buildings that don’t have staff may add a guard to wait in the lobby, or have one come by and check on the building periodically. Some are licensed to carry a gun, he notes. Some landlords with retail spaces are being advised to close stores for the night, and some landlords may choose to board up stores.

“Buildings are doing this because they don’t have faith in the NYPD in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests and subsequent looting,” Frisch says. There’s a sense that “police have their hands tied,” he says. “We had a dry cleaner in Brooklyn that was burned to the ground. Buildings were graffitied, someone stole a cash register. People are terrified that this will happen again.”

Management companies are in a difficult position: It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow night.

For that reason, Maxwell Kates, a real estate management company that manages over 130 buildings, is not issuing a security recommendation—but making guards available if buildings want them.

“Some of our buildings will be utilizing the security service and many will not,” says Mitchell Berg, senior vice president at Maxwell Kates. “We as a firm are not making a recommendation as it is impossible to predict if [or] when protesters may show up and whether they will pose a security threat.”

“My concern, and it is just my opinion, is the presence of a security guard might potentially increase the risk of injuries. If a group approaches an outnumbered guard service—there might be a confrontation,” he says.