Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reunion: Where All the Old Men Pack Heat

There is one place where once every two years I feel at home: the Biannual Reunion of Former Members of the 83rd Precinct, NYPD. Of course, among the several hundred men (and a smattering of women) who packed the Knights of Columbus Hall on the night of September 16, 2011, a Friday, in Valley Stream, Long Island, there were also in attendance current members of the Command –young enough to be my children (if I had any). But being retired cops, we don’t go to see them (we don’t know them); we go to see each other, familiar faces, comrades – we go to see who’s left. And everyone who is, is carrying a concealed weapon.

Well, not quite everyone. Joey ‘G’ doesn’t have his – scruffy, his clothes as disheveled as I remember (could be the same leisure suit); the curly, unkempt blonde hair going to grey as you’d expect of a man in his mid-sixties. In the 1970’s, Joey ‘G’ was our go-to guy: a cop needed a ‘junker’ to get to and from work, see Joey. What else? Drive the Family Car in, park in and around the Precinct? With the neon light flashing; “COP’s CAR! COP’S CAR!” Definitely NOT – not in Bushwick, the car-theft capital of Brooklyn, not to mention the army of home-grown arsonists who were busy reducing streets of wood two-and-three-story homes to vast vacant lots.

Of course, this is not the Joey ‘G’ we remember: the hand you shake is no longer heavily callused with thin lines of grease in the cracked skin of the palms, and the soiled uniform shirt is gone – gone years ago with the Job and the pension, after his arrest. On the bright side, no one knew more about the Chop-Shops of Bushwick than Joey, or handed out more free ‘intel’ on the locations to the big ‘collar men’ in the Precinct. Joey ‘G’ has not aged well. (Naturally, I don’t use last names to shield the identities of the Indicted and Unindicted.)

I mingle, keep moving: no choice in a ballroom full of steely-eyed suspicious men; they might think I was wearing a wire (although the Statute of Limitations expired decades ago). I scan the faces, most of which are as familiar to me as family. I’m looking for Louie ‘R’, one of my former partners who hasn’t showed his face here for several reunions, the last time being shortly after his release from Federal prison. He’d served nine years for being part of a Drug Conspiracy selling heroin in Bushwick and neighboring Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In the late 1970s, Louie and I had been two of the four cops assigned to a special patrol unit called the 83 Pct. Conditions Car. Under the supervision of a gung-ho Patrol Sergeant, Freddie ‘S’, we patrolled in uniform in an ‘unmarked’ brown Plymouth – three normal-sized cops stuffed in the back seat, John ‘M’, our own Super-Cop, the driver and Sgt. Freddie, the Navigator. Our task? To stop all crime, arrest every bad guy the Sector ‘RMP’ (Radio Motor Patrol) cars could not manage because assigned to specified geographic areas, having to respond to an endless stream of assignments in their sectors from the Police Radio Dispatcher.

So we did the drugs, the gangs, the guns, the counterfeiters, chop shop garages, disorderly premises and who or whatever else needed Special Attention, within the two square miles comprising the 83rd Precinct. We executed Search Warrants which, being a lawyer (but not yet admitted to practice, my application having stalled in the Character Committee) I drafted, based on information provided by our stable of a dozen Registered Confidential Informants (‘CIs’). CIs were criminals we’d caught in the act and, with the acquiescence of the Brooklyn District Attorney and the Courts, we allowed to remain at liberty in order to ‘work off their cases’ on the streets. It was all according to Hoyle, strictly on the up-and-up, according to the customs of the day. The CI’s real names were recorded, their pictures taken, and a code name assigned to each man and woman, and they were duly warned that they must not commit any new crimes themselves while spying on their colleagues (theoretically). We rode herd on our CIs, of course, but after awhile it became unnecessary, almost counter-productive. Despite the obvious danger, they really got into their new roles, as if they were cops themselves (and in a sense that was true: they were our Deputized Agents, we told them).

One not-so-young female drug user whom we’d christened ‘BlueEyes’ had missed her calling. She’d developed a repertoire of tics – pacing back and forth, circling, twirling her hands, throwing her head back in loud laughter – to indicate the seller was holding. She’d let us know before she went on the set just what moves she’d be employing that day. Watching BlueEyes do her routines was like watching good opera (Violetta’s boudoir death scene in La Traviata comes to mind). Nothing as unremarkable as scratching her head or removing sunglasses for Ms. BlueEyes. It helped that she already had a reputation in the neighborhood as ‘loco’ before she hooked up with us. And, truth is, we felt affection for BlueEyes and responsible for all our CIs, careful never to put them into a situation we couldn’t control. Likewise, we cops were a tight band of brothers – until Louie retired and afterward did the unthinkable.

Louie was caught by the DEA in possession of a large quantity of heroin. After he’d retired in 1978, he’d worked as a courier for an Hispanic Drug gang. He was Puerto Rican and Bushwick, since the 1970s, was predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican, and Louie was a street-smart ex-cop. When a big-time dealer or his lieutenant is caught (and Louie was so regarded by then), he looks to make a deal: give the cops a bigger fish or a more exotic catch. He chose the latter, implicating our former partner, John ‘Super Cop’ in drug dealing in Bushwick. This was in the late 1980s. I was retired a few years already and John was a Detective Second Grade, the best investigator I’d ever seen, with more eyes and ears in the street than any cop in Brooklyn. His name was on the lips of every junkie and law-abiding citizen in Bushwick, and he was one of them, a Puerto Rican. For all those reasons, the Feds liked him for a dirty cop, and initiated a year-long investigation that ultimately came up with nothing. Yet he’d had to endure the endless questions from the Internal Affairs Bureau within and the DEA without.

So when Louie showed up a few reunions ago, the stage was set for a violent confrontation (which cops who’ve been drinking have been known to do).


Robert Knightly

1 comment:

  1. Powerful and intriguing writing. tjs