Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Heart of Gold

I first met Rebecca Buck in 2000 at the 28th Precinct.  I had just gotten out of field training and sent to evening shift. She was a 30 year old newly pressed Sergeant in the NYPD and she had come to evenings.  Specifically she had come to the best squad on evenings, C-2.  As a bit of an explainer, there are three Platoons in a precinct (Midnights "A", Days "B", and Evenings "C") In each platoon there are three squads that rotate five days on, two off, five on, three off. I had found myself placed in Squad C-2, the second squad of the evening shift.

New Sergeants are an interesting breed.  They just came from humping a radio car like you and so they understand all of the scams and the work, but they also have been told over and over in BMOC (the Basic Leadership class of the NYPD) that officers are not your friends anymore and they will get you in trouble or fired.  And C-2 was a hot mess of officers who had lots of years on working in a busy precinct and a short, young attractive blonde sergeant was going to be tested.

Right after she became our Sgt, she invited us all to this Brazilian steakhouse in Queens.  The whole squad, which was like 12-14 people. And some of them were misfits.  My favorite quote was a more senior guy asked her "Do we have to invite Satan?" referring to one of the more disgruntled guys we had.  She insisted.  So we went and ate and drank and she paid for the whole thing.  I imagine this happens to Teach for America kids who get to their first school in a bad neighborhood and decide to give peace offerings as a first act.  We even told her that she shouldn't do this because it wasn't necessary.  But she insisted.  And she spent a lot of money on us losers.

As she grew into her role as our boss, there were some tensions.  I remember we went on strike with our activity for some reason.  Jose, a Dominican guy, thought it was a good idea and just kept yelling "STRIKE!" in a heavily tinged accent, which seems as good a reason as any to not write tickets.  I'd ask him if he remembers why we went on strike. but he's currently on an 18-year vacation.  You have to turn in your activity sheets at the end of the month and as each guy handed in their sheet, her face dropped more and more, until she ran out of the room and went to the Lieutenant to try and figure out what the hell was going on.  Fair question.  We had no idea either and activity returned to normal as soon as Jose stopped yelling.

What I remember most about Sgt. Buck was her kindness.  I remember asking her to come to one of my calls to see if I had enough to make an arrest.  And then we got into a discussion like this:

Me: So, Boss, here's the details, is that enough for an arrest?  

Her: You looking to make an arrest today? 

Me: I'm totally fine taking the arrest and staying on overtime, I just don't know if this is an arrest or not.

Her: You got plans tonight?  You want to go to court tomorrow? 

Me: Listen, Sarge, if I wanted to shitcan this (NYPD parlance for making things go away) you would never even know this address existed, but I called you and I embrace whatever decision you make,  You have the stripes.  

Her: Lock her up.  

Me: Thank you.  

She also smoked like a chimney, which meant that when she took me as her driver, it made for interesting times.  Point of reference, since all NYPD patrol units are two-officer cars, they give the patrol sergeant's a driver (operator in job speak) so they can respond to calls as well.  Normally, i could just roll down the windows, but on the days I drove her and it rained, it was a scene out of a comedy.  She would be smoking with her window barely cracked while mine was down.  My left side would be soaked, and she would ask "Campbell, does this bother you?  I can put it out." To which I always replied, "No Sarge.  I just like the feeling of rain."

Sergeant Buck went on to become Lieutenant Buck and retired from the job after 20 years of helping people and somehow not becoming a terrible, disgruntled person counting down their time like a prison sentence.  Rebecca passed away last week after suffering from 9/11 related illness.  Former colleagues turned out on Facebook to express their sadness and happiness at having known her.  And out of those posts, an odd pattern started forming.  Many peopl
e said that she had reached out exactly two weeks before she passed and they had a great conversation where she said she was doing well and asked about their kids and lives.  The theory is that she was gravely ill and wanted to reach out to talk to those she cared about to say goodbye without burdening them with her health.  Even to the end she was selfless.

She is being laid to rest today in the Hudson Valley in New York.  I can't be there as I have a crazy work week and it hurts.  As I've mentioned before I learned you always make the funeral and I simply can't.  But she is in my mind all day and has been since I heard the terrible news.  I am reminded again sadly that 9/11 has killed more officers (84) than were killed on 9/11 (24).

Rest easy Rebecca Buck.  Hope there's a smoking section in heaven. I'll miss you calling me "Big Bird."  Don't spend any money buying people dinner to make sure they like you up there, because they won't be able to help themselves.  Even without a green paddle for more prime rib.

Fidelis Ad Mortem.  Squad C-2 forever. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Arrests Vs. Murders

Caveat Emptor
Greetings.  For some of you, this is your first time stopping here after you found me from my Buzzfeed article.  Recently, my posts have been more police-centric, but this blog was a journal or outlet for me for many yeats and so if you spend time going back in time here, it could get pretty random, so be warned.  I had to decide whether or not to start a whole other blog, just on law enforcement stuff, and in the end decided that this blog really is who I am for better or worse as 
I've travelled through my life, and this focus on policing is simply the next chapter for it.  So I just wanted to set that out up front for any new people.

So Baltimore has had a terrible May. They are currently at 35 homicides for the month and it's not yet over.  They currently stand at 108 homicides for the year, while Philadelphia at more than double the population (1.5 million to 600K) stands at 88.  And these are just the murders.  Shootings are up 78%, and that's people shot.  Not people just shooting.  Those numbers are anyone's guess.  At the same time as this terrible spike in violence, the news has trumpeted stats saying that arrests are way down.  Some 45% over last year, our friends across the pond are saying.  Some are saying that the police are simply letting these murders happen as some sort of retribution for the indictment of the 6 officers for Freddie Grey's murder.

Now, let me say up front, that I've never worked or lived in Charm City.  I do very much enjoy their food and their people, but I am no expert on Baltimore.  But I do know that we're talking about apples and oranges in many ways.

Let's take the murders and the shootings.  Again, I am no police mastermind, but the shocking amount of violence in a concentrated area (Western District) would lead me to believe that a lot of this is retributional.  That is to say that people didn't just decide to embark on their shooting career in May.  They are trading bodies for bodies.  If this hunch is right, then these are incredibly hard murders and shootings to solve.  As evidenced by the fact that after the initial ones, people turned to guns to solve them and not to the police.  This is nothing new.  There is of course a huge "stop snitching" culture.  I've had crime scenes where the victim could tell me exactly where the guy was who shot him down to the foot, but couldn't tell me anything about their height, weight or clothing. This is how it goes.  The cops know this.

This is not to excuse it.  Yesterday in Baltimore, a 9-year old boy was shot.  These are people being killed with familes and mothers and sisters and kids, regardless of whether they're in the game or not. It's inexcusable and must be stopped, but it's hard when you don't have witnesses.  It doesn't mean you don't try, but its hard.  There is a tremendous impact to the psyche of this community.

As for the arrests, I would wager to say that this represents proactive arrests.  These aren't the arrests for people calling about getting hit by someone and pointing out the suspect, or people stealing from stores and being caught on video camera.  These are the arrests that come from cops seeing guys pissing on the street, drinking in public, gambling, or looking suspicious and then later finding drugs or guns on them.  Bear in mind, that last category fit Freddie Grey to a T, except he was only carrying a knife of questionable legality, depending on who you're listening to on Twitter.

These are the arrests that people hate.  Eric Garner, arrested for selling loose cigarettes.  Michael Brown, stopped for walking on the street.  However this kind of policing can also be good policing.  Brian Moore, the NYPD officer who was killed weeks ago, saw a guy with something in his waistband.  When he asked the guy about it, man turned and shot him in the head, a wound he later died from.  It was a good stop.  And clearly it was for cause.  But they're not all going to turn up guns, which is where it gets grey again.

There is not a true connection between the drop in arrests and the rise in shootings.  For that, you would have to know what arrests were not being made this year.  You also have to ask a community weary of police helicopters and aggressive tactics how they can earn that trust again. So when someone gets stopped wearing a trenchcoat in summer and gets patted down, they understand it isn't heavy handed tactics, but officers looking to literally stop the bleeding.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

I Guess We Get Wet

The forecast was 90% rain, but warm.  This posed a problem.  A new problem for us as it turned out.

"So what do we do?  Raincoat?"

"I didn't bring mine.  Umbrellas are out of the question"

"I guess we get wet."

It was Sunday morning, the day of NYPD Officer Wenjian Liu's funeral.  Rain was scheduled which meant you were going to get wet.  The whole point of a dress uniform is to look sharp, which is defeated when covered by a raincoat.  Also, you can't carry an umbrella, so that meant it was going to be a long, wet day, which seemed fitting in many ways.

The ceremony was held in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn in a residential neighborhood.  There were thousands of police officers milling around.  There were canteens that had been sent from the various unions, local jewish religious organizations, and outside departments.  There was plenty of coffee and hot chocolate, along with cookies and I even saw fresh empanadas.  Line of Duty funerals are the strangest mix between laughter and tears.  The laughter comes at the empanada part when people from all over who haven't seen each other for years or since the Academy are hugging and shooting the shit.  It's like a bizarre state fair only for cops

"Where did you get the empanadas?"

"Over by the plumbing supply store.  I think the DEA (Detectives Endowment Association) one has pizza." 

Thousands of officers from all over the country.  Large contingents from LA, Chicago and all parts in between.  Normally, the men and women of the NYPD's Ceremonial Unit are buzzing all over the place putting people in formation and barking orders, but they had to make do with yelling at us over loudspeakers they hung from cranes.  Giving directions without seeing any of us.  There were too few of them and far too many of us.  It was a little bit of chaos.  But like any crowd, people started moving towards 65th Street and that got everyone else moving and quieting down.

This ceremony, like Ramos's the week before, was unique for me because the wake and the funeral were held at the same place.  Normally, the wake is at a funeral home and then the body arrives and you salute as it enters the house of worship, along with the bagpipes, etc.  Officer Liu was apparently a semi-practicing Buddhist, so they held the service in the funeral home he was waked in.  So it was weird to just be standing around and hear people start talking.  Another unique thing that showed the difference in how these officers were killed, asides from the sea of blue, was the video monitors they had placed along 65th St.  Normally. once the service starts, they'll have a sound truck but the officers who can't fit into the church usually go find coffee or smoke a cigarette or connect with old co-workers.  Not this time.

The speeches came first.  FBI Director Comey spoke on behalf of the federal government (Biden spoke at Ramos's), The Governor was unable to speak as he was handling the death of his father, though he did attend the wake.  The Mayor spoke, and most of the people I saw turned their back. I didn't, because I didn't think it was appropriate at a funeral but not because I have any respect for the Mayor.  The Police Commissioner spoke and spoke from the heart, giving the best "official" speech of the day.  He spoke of how when he learned more about Ramos and Liu he wondered why it was always the good ones who were killed.  He said it was simply the law of averages because the vast majority of cops are good, kind and well-meaning human beings.

Then the family spoke,  First came Wenjian's younger cousin to talk of how kind he was.  Mr. Liu, Wenjian's father spoke next.  Let me tell you that though he spoke in Mandarin, I understood every word he was saying.  Grief is a universal language and it was clear to all those standing along that street, how much pain that man was in.  I noticed many officers getting choked up by a language they didn't know.  Wenjian's wife of three months spoke last in English, thanking the officers outside for coming and talking about how much he meant to her.  This is why you come to cop's funerals.  To show the parents and the loved ones that they do not grieve alone.  That they are not alone.  That from now until the hereafter, the department will look after them.

And then there was a break for a personal Buddhist ceremony.  I think.  It was hard to tell because the camera feed stopped and there wasn't an announcement of when the procession would start.  So with a light rain falling, Maslov's hierarchy kicked in.  Officers started moving towards the restrooms and the 7-11 to get coffee and to shake hands and meet each other.  I on my third sip of coffee when "DETAIL...." rang out. Cut to a scene of officers throwing coffee cups and running to get back in formation while putting back on their white gloves.  "ATTENTION!" Officers now forming up ranks 4 deep, some 12-15 deep in places, standing at ramrod attention.  Remembering not to lock the knees, having done this before.

And silence.  Dead silence.  We were blocks away from the actual funeral home.  Standing straight ahead, looking at the neck roll of the guy in front of you.  Waiting for the next command.
"PRESENT......ARMS!" The command echoing down the Brooklyn block as the fluttering of thousands of gloved hands come up to the brim of the dress cap.  Taps is played by two trumpets.  And as the last few notes of taps goes into the ether, here come the helicopters in the missing man formation.  No more than 60 feet off the street, the beating of the rotors making your chest vibrate as you hold the salute.  I catch officers from smaller departments looking up at the helicopters as they pass by.  Amateurs.  You never look.

"ORDER......ARMS". Hands snapping back to the right sides of bodies all up and down the street. Total silence.  Then come the motorcycles, hundreds of them.  They seem to go on forever.  Here's an awesome video shot from a motor showing the incredible turnout.  If you get to 2:47 and look right past about 8 guys, that would be me.

They were followed by the flower car and then the NYPD Emerald Society Honor Guard and Pipe Band.  It was interesting because given the ancestry of Officer Liu, they didn't play the pipes.  Just beat the drums as they marched slowly in front of the hearse.  As the hearse arrived, this wave of salutes started from my left and carried down to follow his body.  Salutes held for the family members in vans, and then it was over.

Well, not really over.  They kept us standing there for a bizarre amount of time to the point that after 40 minutes, when the pipes came back past going the other way playing, people just broke and dismissed themselves, many walking a mile back to their cars.

People said the turnout was less for this one, perhaps being that it was two weeks after the shooting and on a Sunday.  I honestly couldn't tell you because literally all I could see was cops in both directions and I know I only saw less than half of those there. I do know that this day reinforced my belief that you always make the funeral.  I was disappointed in the low turnout from DC, given that its only a train ride away.  Given how much it means to the family, you need a damn good reason not to make it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No Smiling

"No smiling."  

That's what the cop taking the photos you see above tells you when you sit down in a uniform shirt 8 sizes too large that probably has the germs and sweat of thousands of cops on it.  It's a odd statement because you take this photo soon after you start the Academy, when really you're all smiles because you're looking forward to doing amazing work and helping people. It's also why there's no collar brass on your shirt, because you won't know what command or precinct you're going to.  

"You know why you can't smile?", the old timer taking the photos asks me. I don't.  "Two reasons.  First, if you shove an umbrella up some guy's ass and you're smiling, it looks like you wanted to do it.  Second, if you get killed, this is the photo they put in the Daily News or the Post"  

His first example, though crude, was a lesson from 1997 when a savage named Justin Volpe wearing an NYPD uniform sodomized Abner Louima with a plunger causing internal injuries.  His second example didn't need much explaining I thought. 

Their names are Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.  

Liu was 32 and had been with the NYPD for 7 years and had just gotten married 3 months ago.  

Ramos was 40 years old and had been on the job for 2 years, coming over from School Safety.  He was married with two kids, one of whom is an eloquent 13 year old.  
Both were Sons of New York City, Princes of Brooklyn.  

I talked about in an earlier post what I thought some of core issues between the protesters and the police are, and it's literally like looking at that picture that's an old lady or a young lady depending on how you look at it.  The issue here is that no one is helping the other side see it any differently, mostly because the rhetoric stakes are so high.  We have a war on cops or the government sanctioned murder of thousands of black men.  See how it's hard to find a common ground there?  

When a cop is killed, it is devastating, but especially for the police.  Because honestly, even though there are dangers in the job, you don't constantly confront them mentally because that would make you pretty useless as a cop.  So you end up confronting your mortality when another officer is killed. What makes the death of Officers Liu and Ramos so especially cruel is how they were killed.  They were assassinated.  See, when cops are killed, you try and put yourself in their shoes to see if maybe you would have done something different.  Cop killed on a traffic stop?  I may approach stopped vehicles on their right side.  Cop dies of a heart attack chasing someone, I may think that won't happen to me because I'm in shape, etc.  But every cop has sat in their car somewhere talking about something trivial or talking on the phone to a loved one, and so all of us are terrified of an ambush.  The only way to prevent that is to not go outside, though even that might not work.  

Allow me to say off the bat that the only person who killed those officers was one man.*  The Mayor didn't do it.  The City Council President didn't do it.  Pat Lynch, the PBA President has gotten into hot water for saying that the Mayor has blood on his hands.  Listen, Pat is a cop from Brooklyn who rose through the ranks of the PBA many years ago.  His job is to bring in money in the form of raises, which he does by making sweet love to the NY Post and giving them awesome quotes.  No knock on the guy.  He does a good job, but he's not a national media kind of guy.  However, cops can't talk about these issues which is why its done through union presidents and these guys aren't known for their nuance or hidden messages.  

Quick Story:  Once got accused by a gentleman I arrested of stealing money from him and so there was an investigation and IAB came and my union sent their guys.  This happens a lot, not to me, but in general where people feel like it will help their criminal case if they lodge a complaint to tarnish the officer's reputation.  So no big deal.  We're all in a room, tape recorder is rolling and IAB asks "Officer, can you explain where you were on June 1, 2002?" At which point, my Union Trustee who I met 3 minutes ago says, "He wasn't eating cheese like you, you fucking rat." At which point the tape stops and it's clear that the IAB guys and the Union guys see each other all the time and they're going back and forth.  But my point here is that the union is like the id for the police department.  Perhaps like Sharpton or other community activists are to the community.  

While I don't believe that Mayor DeBlasio is a murderer or has blood on his hands, I do feel that he has chosen the easy way out every step of the way.  And to me, that's not leadership. He ran a campaign against aggressive police tactics like Stop, Question and Frisk and when elected Mayor, he got those policies pulled.  I wrote about how SQF is a sham that had roots in a good place, which was sound police work and instincts.  However it was his public comments where he said he gave his son the talk about being careful around cops that really started the split. Look, I understand the issue, but to say this while men and women of the NYPD's Intel Division are protecting Dante DeBlasio with their lives seemed a little obtuse.  The split continued as the protests began and continued.  I also get it.  He's super liberal, and he's not a centrist.  [Honestly, the only reason he's Mayor is because Mike Bloomberg bent the rules to get a third term, thereby upsetting the delicate ecosystem that is term-limited NYC politics.  Which is also why he DeBlasio beat Joe Lhota so handily, because Joe wasn't supposed to be the candidate.  And DeBlasio is the un-Bloomberg.]  But his base is not the police or their staunch supporters, so it was an easy call I think.  

Let me say this about the protests.  They're great. NYPD is awesome at handling them.  Just look at the NYPD response compared to the response in Ferguson.  Thousands of people get on the street and find it empowering and addictive when they get to walk in the street wherever they want, while cops hold traffic.  But its not sustainable.  People can't block the Holland and Lincoln Tunnel every day for months at a time.  And the longer it goes on, the more it becomes an expected outcome.  So when it's not addressed 2 months later, the cops tell people they can't cross the  Manhattan Bridge or stand in the street, people object because they think this is how it always is and should be.  Discussions should have been had early on with a plan voiced by the Mayor about how long it will go on for.  

Recently Mayor DeBlasio said that the protests should stop while the officers bodies are being laid to rest.  Bullshit.  Don't hang this on Officers Ramos and Liu.  They're gone and can't speak for themselves, but I'll say it for them.  This is bullshit.  If the Mayor thinks the protests are healthy and fine and a wonder of democracy, then let them continue.  Or if he feels like they've gotten unruly or out of hand as the rhetoric has gotten louder, in some cases calling for cops to be killed, then put on your big boy Mayor pants and say so.  Take a goddamn stand, but don't put this on the cops.  This is your job as Mayor of the City of New York, you need to walk the line between the police union bosses screaming on behalf of their members and the community activists screaming on behalf of the dead. And there might not be a good way out, but sometimes life is hard.  Just ask Eric Garner, Wenjian Liu or Rafael Ramos. 

Two days ago, I tried to engage people on Twitter on this issue, but I just ended up getting blocked because there's no air in the middle, much like our current national political environment.  The group Black Lives Matter recently wrote condemning the linking of the murder of Officers Ramos and Liu to the protest movement and said they shouldn't have to apologize.  This makes sense, as I said above, because only one guy pulled the trigger.  However, what if I said that as a cop, I shouldn't have to apologize for the actions of my fellow officers. That when I pull a car over and the occupants of the car yell "Hands Up, Don't Shoot"  as I walk up, that I'm insulted because I would never shoot someone who has their hands up.  Why?  Because I'm a professional and I take my job seriously and I did take this job to save lives, and because we're all not the same beneath the kevlar and non-breathable, highly flammable uniform fabric.  

Their names are Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.  They are Sons of New York City and Princes of Brooklyn.

* I'm not going to list the killer's name, because he needs no more column inches.  Fuck that guy. 

P.S.  I'm only claiming to speak for me.  I no longer work for the NYPD, though it was an honor to wear the shield and serve the city I was born in and love. I often get asked what I think about events like this because most of my friends don't know any cops, and also because there usually isn't a voice from the police side save unnamed sources or union officials.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dispatches From The Road: Hong Kong

So a week or so ago, we returned from our 10 day trip to Hong Kong and Taipei.  The trip was prompted by a desire to see my eldest brother and sister-in-law and their three kids.  The secondary desire was a need to use my US Airways miles before their award chart goes through another devaluation.  Right now both airlines are operating under their own carrier license with different pilots and crews, and different mileage programs.  Once they begin using the combined certificate, which is assumed to be next year, then the remaining miles program (AAdvantage) will certainly want more miles for the same trip.

If you want the history of Hong Kong, you can read this article.  The short story is that is was Chinese and then became a British colony in the late 1800's with an agreement that the three separate territories comprising Hong Kong (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories) would be handed back over to the Chinese in 1997.  The Chinese have controlled Hong Kong since 1997 and it is one of two Special Administrative Regions in China, the other being Macau, a former Portuguese colony.  Government under the Chinese is like the government under the Brits,  a Governor is appointed by the controlling country.  Hong Kong had scheduled direct elections for Chief Executive in 2017, however recently Beijing said that there would only be three candidates and they would for all intents and purposes pick those candidates.

I'd only been there once before and it was for the Rugby Sevens with my other brothers, so suffice to say I don't remember much as I was pretty drunk.  So it was nice going back and seeing things with non-blurry eyes.  A few thoughts about The Kong

  • Hong Kong is easily accessible to Southern China which has seen an explosion of money thanks to our need for cheap electronics and clothing.  This means that there's lots of people shopping there.  Store after store in Kowloon.  People even bring suitcases to put their stuff in. 
  • It was typhoon season, when we visited.  If you want to know the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon, what matters is the location of the storm.  Seriously. Also they hoist the typhoon flag, which is way cooler than issuing a Typhoon warning. 
  • The food is amazing.  We gorged on dumplings and dim sum and pork buns.  If you come here, you need to eat your face off and then nap.  

  • It was hot there.  Like Washington, DC in August but with more sun.  I didn't pack correctly for the trip, meaning not enough for two wardrobe changes a day. Which means we would duck into malls with air conditioning. Malls that have ... dumplings!

  • The subway system is awesome.  They have ads for science and math tutors that make them look like movie stars.  See for yourself.  It also shows that these kids will all be our future bosses. 

We had a terrific trip, and after the Kong we went to Taipei.  I'll write more about that trip in the next post.  Good seeing family and hope we can get out there again soon.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Law Enforcement is Grey. So is life

So like the rest of the world, I've been following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri over the past few weeks.  This event, which many people are saying is not just a singular event, is incredibly hard to dissect.  It's like pulling a string on the biggest sweater ever knit.  However, between the media I consume and enjoy usually (Gawker, Twitter, etc) stating that cops are abusive and corrupt and murderers, and my Facebook feed which alternates between condemnation of Sharpton and the looters, condemnation of a brutal police state,  and ice bucket challenge videos, I decided to get some thoughts down.

Where I'm From

I want to start at the beginning, because the reality is that I'm just one guy and I have one perspective.  I was raised in New York City as a white kid who was afforded all opportunities in the world.  As proof, I should tell you I attended sleepaway clown/computer camp in Avon, Connecticut for 2 weeks one summer.  My all-boys private elementary school was mostly populated with the offspring of incredibly wealthy WASPs from Park Avenue, and it had a conservative ethos where sports were just as important as grades.  As a theater kid, who never seemed to "reach his potential" according to my report cards, it wasn't a great fit.

Then I went to high school at a more liberal  co-ed institution, but still not that liberal.  Our Gay/Straight Alliance club seemed to consist of straight kids eager to ally with any gays who wanted to make themselves known.  We did have a lot more black students thanks to a terrific program called Prep for Prep.  It was here I got to talk with and hang out with students of color, which was sadly and belatedly formative for me.

Then I was lucky enough to get into Vassar College, and majored in Urban Studies and spent loads of time reading about poverty, gentrification and spending priorities that never seemed to prioritize people who needed help.  Also my personal ideology shifted more left as I recognized my own privilege surrounded by friends on financial aid.  In junior year, I applied to the New York City Police Department, which had been a lifelong dream just like many of my friends had wanted to be astronauts or cowboys when they were little.  My obsession just stuck.  I halfheartedly looked for jobs in government, but prepared myself for the police department.

I completed the NYPD Academy in 2000 and was assigned to the 28th Precinct, which is in Central Harlem.  If you took the east/west boundaries of Central Park and went straight for another 17 blocks that was my home.  It's the smallest precinct in the city.  .68 square miles.  Solidly African-American at that time.  I was warned that the black officers and the white officers didn't get along.  What I noticed was that there are more black officers than white officers there which was unusual given that white officers were still the majority.

Observations as a Cop

A few thoughts on race as a cop. I learned that the white cops and the black cops who actually did work got along fine.  The zips (NYPD vernacular for do nothings) were generally disliked by everyone.  We did have several leaders from 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement who worked in the 28, which could make things tense when they had press conferences outside the precinct condemning the department.  Some of them were good cops,  some of them were better at their positions in the organization than their jobs in the department.  But overall, we were cool.  My partner for 4 years was a handsome Dominican lad from Brooklyn.  He remains one of my best friends.  I was best man at his wedding.

White people would ask me sometimes if it was hard being a white cop in Harlem.  I came to realize quickly that it was harder being a black cop which seemed to surprise them.  But I didn't live in Harlem or grow up playing on those streets and I got to home to Queens when my shift was over.  And though I would hear the occasional but still humorous "cracker ass cracker" thrown my way, I heard black officers called "sellout" or "Uncle Tom" and worse.  And many of them still had friends and family there, and that had to hurt, and is wonderfully explained in this Root piece. 

Much has been made of officer-involved shootings and with snipers set up on armored vehicles, the issue bears discussion.  Many people say it's not a dangerous job.  And statistically this is true, as law enforcement doesn't even break the Top 10 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, coming behind fields like professional drivers, loggers, garbage collectors, roofers and others.  And to be honest, asides from the occasional foot chase, wrestling with a perp or standing in the August sun at a parade, it's not really a physically demanding job.  Many cops will tell you that roofing in the summer, construction, road work all work harder than they do, in terms of sweat produced.

But what you can't see, and what creates this deep rift in relations between cops and their loved ones, and anyone who's not a cop, is the mental toll the job takes.  Let's take the danger aspect.  We know the job isn't the most dangerous, and as of today, there have been 67 reported line of duty fatalities from local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement.  But the threat of danger is always there.  When you're logging, trees can fall the wrong way and chains can snap and kill you in an instant, but the trees don't become self-aware and try and kill you as you log.  The roof doesn't decide to become slippery and send you to your death.  These other occupations are dealing with inanimate objects while cops deal with people.  There are sadly more and more cases of officers being ambushed while they ate or sat in their cars or returned from calls. Now, does this happen every day?  No.  Not at all.  It's an isolated incident, even if it's sadly becoming more frequent.  The chance is small that I will be killed as I sit in my car.  But I have no way to mitigate that risk because it depends on another human being's state of mind. Hurricanes are incredibly rare in New England, but it doesn't mean that planners and meteorologists don't worry about them and plan for them.   So all I can do is be on guard and make sure I see people's hands, because regardless of the whole "Guns don't kill people...." trope, police officers know that hands are the only thing that kill people.  Until the bad guys develop shoe guns or something.  So cops treat most people as a possible threat, until they determine otherwise.

In addition to the ever present threat of danger, there's another more insidious threat to the mental health of a police officer, and that's the community they serve.  So, when I worked in the 28, I'd say 93-95% of people in that community woke up, fed and clothed their kids, went to work, came home from work, read their kids bedtime stories, watched a Knicks game (they lost) and went to sleep.  And that majority of the population we rarely saw.  We did see, interact, and help the 5-7% of people that for reasons larger than ours to fix, required police intervention.  A few of my favorites:

  • Amanda M., 65 years old, who called the police every day drunk because her live in roommate, 40 years old wouldn't have sex with her.  
  • Guy at the fish market who believe he was ripped off and his Jumbo shrimp were not jumbo enough. 
  • Couple who have three kids together and fight all the time but stay together even though there's a restraining order in place, so he gets locked up while she yells at us not to.  
  • Guy on PCP who bit my neck while fighting me in the middle of 116th St, which is how I still remember my last tetanus shot was in 2003.  
  • Sisters who couldn't decide whether to watch Ricki Lake or Maury Povich and called 911 to have an officer settle the dispute.  
These calls are every day, 5 days a week, for 8.5 hours a day.  The screaming in your face, the parents with babies outside at 3AM in November with no coat, the shooting victims who never see who shot them, like ever.  People lie to your face all the time, and they're terrible at it, or maybe you're just good at reading it because you're lied to for a living.  It gets old and you begin to withdraw and think of people as less than who they are because they refuse to act with any respect for you or their fellow man/woman.  I should say that the only time you normally get to interact with the 95% is for burglary calls, and it does help to remind you that there are hard working people who care and invite you to watch the Knicks lose on TV while your partner takes the report.  

Everyone loves firefighters.  They have a dog.  They have calendars.  They always seem so nice.  Why can't cops be like them?  Well, for one, they get to see everyone.  Sadly, everyone's Aunt Milly can have trouble breathing at Thanksgiving or anyone can get into a bike accident, so they get to handle the public at large, instead of the smaller subset like cops do, which improves their overall demeanor.  Also, the amazing thing about firefighters is that people love them even if they don't succeed.  As a volunteer firefighter in the Hudson Valley for two years in college, I literally watched a fire on a back deck spread due to poor tactics and consume the house.  You can have a firefighter bust out all your windows, saw your couch in half and you'll still bring them cookies to thank them.  This is no knock on fire guys.  They are brave and have a demanding job and I think being burned would be 100% worse than being shot.  The same public that asks "Why didn't you shoot the knife out of the guy's hand" will never ask "How come you didn't vent the roof or stretch another Inch and a Half line around through the bedroom." That's just the way it is.  

Where To Go From Here

I want to be clear that there are other non-environmental issues that create indifferent or troubled officers.  A Lieutenant gave us this speech on the first day of the Academy that has always stuck with me. 
      10 percent of you were meant to be police officers.  You have it in your blood and bones and you will excel in this profession.  For 80 percent of you, this is a job.  Its a job you will do well and honorably for your career with the NYPD.  10 percent of you should never made it this far.  You are too dumb, too damaged or too criminal to be police officers and you very well will be hurt, killed or arrested in the years to come.

Indeed, I have met terrible officers.  Sexist, racist and generally awful people.  The smartest person and the dumbest person I've met in my entire life have had NYPD personnel tax numbers. If every department has a few bad apples, then the size of the NYPD guarantees it an orchard of assholes and misfits.  But they are, on balance, the exception and not the rule.  I have amazing friends and incredibly hard working and caring individuals that many people will never get to know behind the exterior of the blue uniform and the badge.  I was once driving with a friend and got pulled over and my friend couldn't believe how the officer's demeanor changed once he saw my badge.  My friend kept remarking how nice and interested the guy was compared to when he didn't know me from Adam. While some of this was probably because I was a cop, it was mostly because the cop knew I wasn't a threat and could let his guard down and be himself, which is a rare occurrence on the street. 

Also, I think given the small segments of the general population you serve that you end up resenting and often times stereotyping the communities you work in.  Regardless of whether that's an African-American population in Harlem or a liberal white population in Manhattan or Brooklyn.  It's why I think cops should rotate their precincts, so they get to work in different communities with different constituencies.  I realize the union will never let this happen, but even taking officers off the street and giving them an administrative assignment with decent days off every few years could help reset some of the issues.  People do wonderful research on the effect that poverty has on communities and the children that grow up in severe poverty.  You can't tell me that working in incredibly depressed communities for 40 hours a week for 20 years doesn't take a similar toll, regardless of where the officer calls home.  

I'm not sure anyone is still reading this (Hi Mom) and I recognize this is long and somewhat rambling. I'm happy to write more about the issues and difficulties surrounding putting officers on foot or making them live in the cities they patrol, or why perhaps more black kids get locked up for weed than white kids.  But I'll save that for another day.  I'm just one cop with an opinion and make no claim to have the answers for other cops or other departments.  In the past weeks watching social media explode with comments by people about police overreach and brutality, as well as those who seek to elevate us as heroes draped in the flag of the just and righteous, I just wanted to put together some of my thoughts.  I recognize that racism is alive and well and that black men do get stopped for driving nice cars all over this country or hanging out on the corner with their friends.  Just as I learned that I can't assume the community I serve is represented by those who call 911 over and over, I wanted to point out that you can't judge an entire profession or calling based on the actions of a few. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Remember Cardillo

When I arrived at the 28th Precinct in February of 2000, fresh out of the NYPD Academy, I remember walking into the locker room and on almost every single one was a faded sticker that said "Remember Cardillo."  It was a powerful and quiet statement that something terrible happened and was now part of the building's DNA.  And that feeling was right.  A horrible injustice occurred that practically no one knows about.

This is Patrolman Philip Cardillo.  He served with the NYPD for 5 years and was 31 years old when he was murdered.  He was survived by his wife, and his three young children.  I use the term murdered and not died or killed, because the incident that took his life was pre-meditated but sadly not as shocking as what followed it.

On Thursday, April 20th, 1972, NYPD Communications received a 911 call of Officer Needing Assistance inside Harlem Mosque Number 7, headed by Louis Farrakhan, and helmed by Malcolm X for a time.  The call actually just gave the address, not mentioning the mosque.  Cardillo and his partner ran inside along with two other officers.

I want to pause the story here and try and give some perspective.  While Fox News recently made much hay of the New Black Panther Party suppressing votes using one guy in a kufi, it's important to remember the early 70's would have made the anchors on Fox's head explode.  The Black Liberation Army had shot 6 NYPD officers in the 10 months leading up to the call that Cardillo got, and 4 of the officers had died.  Officers Piagentini and Jones were killed in May of 1971 in an ambush outside the precinct just above Cardillo's.  Officers Laurie and Foster were killed in Greenwich Village, shot in the back while they walked to their foot beat.

The NYPD Patrol Guide still instructs officers to space out when leaving the precinct to get your patrol cars, which was protocol to limit the amount of officers that could be killed in one ambush.  So there was a war going on in Southeast Asia and a war on the streets of New York.  This was not just a NYC phenomenon either.  13 years after this in Philadelphia, police dropped a bomb on a rowhouse to break a siege and arrest members of the MOVE Group.  Just think about that happening now.  Seriously.  Stop and just process that. A police helicopter dropping a bomb in a city neighborhood.  Alright, unpause.

So Cardillo and the other three officers were inside the mosque a crowd formed outside blocking other officers from assisting them.  Three of the officers were able to escape but Cardillo was trapped behind a gate that was closed to trap him.  He overpowered by many men and his service weapon was taken from him and he was shot with it.  Officers were able to break back in and rescue the mortally wounded Cardillo.  At this point, the crowd had swelled outside furious that officers, regardless of their skin color, had broken the sanctity of the mosque, or seeing an opportunity to hurt outnumbered police officers.  A riot roiled for three hours.  Requests for buses of recruits to assist went unanswered.  Below is a photo of Detective Randy Jurgensen, who had just been struck in the head with a brick, falling into the arms of the 28 Precinct Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector John Haugh.
So we have a mortally wounded officer, cops pouring in responding to cries for help on the radio and hundreds of people responding to fight them.  There were 12 suspects in the basement that they were searching to find Cardillo's gun, when Rep. Charles Rangel and Louis Farrakhan come downstairs and order everyone out of the mosque.  Rangel and Farrakhan promised police officials that the men would surrender themselves at the precinct for interviews later that evening.  No one ever showed up.    Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs Ben Ward, who later became Police Commissioner, ordered all the white officers to leave the scene, to relieve tensions, further destroying morale for all officers, black and white.

I'm going to cut and paste from the excellent blog NYPD Confidential for the follow-up.

Six days later, Cardillo died. He was 32 years old, the father of three. The day of the funeral, his commander, Deputy Inspector John Haugh, resigned in disgust, blaming the NYPD for failing to affirm publicly that Cardillo had acted properly on entering the mosque.

Within days, the department issued written rules for 16 “sensitive locations,” including Nation of Islam Mosque Number 7, forbidding officers from entering such places without a supervisor. It turned out there had been an unwritten agreement with Mosque Number 7.

So strictly did the department interpret these rules that, because of objections from the mosque, ballistics technicians were prevented for the next two years from gathering evidence from Cardillo’s shooting.

It needs to be said that neither the Mayor nor the Police Commissioner attended Cardillo's Funeral.  That day was looked upon as an embarrassment by the Job and all attempts were made to sweep it under the rug.  Thankfully, some have done as the bumper stickers have commanded.  Randy Jurgensen, the same detective who was injured in the photo above, wrote a book called Circle of Six about the incident which is a must read.  

No one has ever been convicted for the murder of Philip Cardillo.  

The reason this post came up is because recently attempts have been made to one again name the street in front of the 28th  precinct after Cardillo.  This apparently is difficult because of the community and the sensitivity of the incident.  The only thing that happened that day on April 20th, was a NYPD officer was murdered and the city and a department colluded to ensure that his murder was never solved.  I think a street sign is the least, and I mean the very least, it could do. 

I know that currently in New York and nationally that there is an anti-cop sentiment.  The recent death of Eric Garner in Staten Island has inflamed simmering tensions that never seem to go cold.  I'm not going to say that all cops are decent people.  Some are even criminals in uniform.  But Philip Cardillo was a son of the city,  just like all the police officers who have been killed doing their duty.  As a nation we are shamed by our handling of returning troops after the Viet Nam war and now we bend over backwards to support our troops as a nation.  We should bend over backwards to correct this injustice.  

That faded sticker  on my locker was right.  I will always Remember Cardillo.