[UPDATE BELOW] A police officer who patrolling the Seward Park public housing development on the Lower East Side was shot in the chest around 3:50 a.m. Officer Brian Groves was saved by his bullet-proof vest, according to Police Commissioner Kelly, while police are searching the gunman.

Groves and his partner were "responding to a report of criminal activity in the stairwell of one of the buildings," WCBS 2 reports. At the 20th or 22nd floor, the suspect fired at them from just a few feet away. It appears Groves also fired his weapon, but it's unclear whether the suspect was wounded.

One resident told the Post, "It was 4th of July so I thought it was fireworks. But then I looked out the window and seen cops going down the block. At that point I knew something was up. So I got dressed and came outside." Then she saw the police officer in the lobby, "As soon as I got downstairs, I saw him leaning against the mailbox saying 'ouch! ouch! ouch!' He was groaning with his legs bending straight out."

Groves was taken to Bellevue Hospital. Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg spoke about the shooting at Bellevue this morning; Bloomberg said, “I think it’s fair to say only pure luck and our prayers prevented this situation from becoming a tragedy, as the bullet struck Officer Groves’ bullet-resistant vest, which kept him alive and will allow him to see his little girls again."

There are currently around 100 police officers on the scene, and Essex Street is blocked off, from Delancey through Grand St. They're not letting anyone near crime scene. NBC New York says, "Several small groups of NYPD officers fanned out in the neighborhood with maps in their hands, looking for the weapon. Officers were spotted checking under parked cars, in FedEx and newspaper boxes and under coin-operated children's rides, among other places."

The NYPD Tweeted, "Suspect who shot a police officer this morning is male 20s, wore red shorts, beaded cornrows, thin, 5'9" Call 800577TIPS, 800COPSHOT, ‪#PSA4‬" Kelly said during the press conference, "The assailant was described as a male black in his 20s, five-foot, nine inches tall, thin build, with his hair braided in beaded corn-rows. He wore a black shirt and red basketball shorts with beige stripes."

[UPDATE] The NYPD has released a sketch of the suspect:

7512suspect.jpg

With reporting from Christopher Robbins