Update at 4:35 p.m.: As a savvy reader points out, the photos now appear to have been taken down from public view by the Sergeants Benevolent Association Flickr feed. In place of the Peek-a-Boo photo album, there's now a 404 error page.    

From the moment Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York last year, he's been at odds with police in the city over how to handle "quality of life" crimes: public drunkenness, panhandling, fare-jumping in the subway and such.

Police argue that such nonviolent crimes contribute to public disorder, and the "broken windows" theory of policing, which New York helped pioneer, says you have to halt small offenses if you want to prevent the big ones. Critics, however, counter that such aggressive pursuit of minor bad behavior has long gone overboard, further antagonizing communities against the police (Eric Garner, who died in police custody last summer, was approached for the crime of selling single cigarettes).

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Now this debate has boiled over in bizarre fashion: The Sergeants Benevolent Association in New York has been urging officers and their friends and families to photograph signs of disorder and post them on Flickr. The goal, as the New York Post wrote, is to "document the decline of the city."

The association's photo stream now contains several hundred photos of homeless people sleeping in doorways, panhandlers pleading for money and — in occasionally graphic detail — New Yorkers relieving themselves in public.

The cumulative effect makes it look a lot like the police, if they can't clean up the homeless, are mocking them instead. And the name of the photo initiative doesn't help that impression: "Peek-a-Boo." The images, scrolling down for several pages, zoom in on New Yorkers at their worst moments and when they're most vulnerable.

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SBA president Ed Mullins told the New York Post that the campaign is meant, rather, to target public officials (the SBA didn't respond to our requests for comment). But he also cited the fact that police are increasingly filmed on the job. “Shouldn’t accountability go both ways?” he asked.

Mullins emailed the PBA's members this week urging them to contribute to the initiative to push back against the city's "failed policies" around policing. It's entirely possible, though, that the tenor of the stunt will only reinforce the criticism that police don't treat residents with dignity.

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