Monday, April 22, 2013

A Police Story: Diary of a Dirty Cop

I had worked the four-by-twelve tour the night before. Early afternoon on October 21, 1971, I awake in my apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, alone and hung-over. The four-to-midnight tour always extends till 4 a.m., the last four hours spent in Cal’s Bar on East Fifth Street, next door to the 9th Precinct (The Nine, as we say) where I’m assigned as a Patrolman. I punch on the TV for the news and there is my Police Academy classmate, my buddy, Eddie Droge. He’s in the witness stand testifying before the Knapp Commission, which has been investigating corruption in the New York City Police Department for the past year. I’m transfixed. Eddie still has that youthful appearance, he’s in his mid-20’s. The only addition to the baby-face is a pencil-thin mustache above his lip.

Four years earlier, Eddie and I were rookie cops in training at the New York City Police Academy on East 20th Street. The off-whiteish-colored building, built in the early-60’s, looked like it was undercover as a four-story parking garage. We had been sworn in as Probationary Patrolmen on May 15, 1967: me, Eddie and 250 other young men. No women (Their Day had yet to come). Eddie and I were assigned to ‘Company 67-17,’ our class designation, like a Home Room in high school. We were 43 boys from Brooklyn: seven blacks (Nobody was ‘African-American’ in those days), seventeen Italians, six Irish, three Jews, two Poles, two Germans, one Puerto Rican, and five of indeterminate European extraction.

There were four other companies, their complements of recruits also assigned by their Boroughs of residence. We were all young, nobody older than 30 and most younger. I was probably typical, at age 26. Eddie Droge was atypical at age 20. In fact, while we entered the Academy together, he was not sworn in till he reached the minimum age of 21, three days after we’d all taken the oath. Many of us had served in the military before joining the Department. It was 1967, Vietnam in full swing. Becoming a cop pretty much guaranteed you a waiver from the Draft. Eddie had not been in the Service, had a wife and three children, and had come straight from a job with Bell Telephone.

The Police Academy curriculum and intensive drill in the use of the ‘Baton’ (the Nightstick) and the Use of Deadly Force (the Gun) was supposed to last six months. It didn’t. On June 15, after four weeks of training, we all went to field commands throughout the City, having been hastily “qualified” with the Service Revolver—the City anticipated a “hot summer” (riots), a thing it anticipated with regularity in those days.

Eddie Droge and I ended up in the old 90th Precinct in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to a large enclave of the Satmar sect of the Hasidim. I came to know Eddie as we patrolled in RMPs or walked adjacent foot-posts on Lee and Bedford Avenues, the main commercial streets around which the Hasidic residences clustered. We referred to the Hasids as “Beards” and believed without question the rumor that we had been sent to Williamsburg to save the Beards from their black and Hispanic neighbors: who, at sundown on Shabbos, would swoop down on bicycles and snatch the hats off the heads of Hasid males as they walked to Synagogue. Long fur hats of mink and fox tail—Spodiks—that cost about $1,000.

These were my thoughts as I watched Eddie testifying before the Knapp Commission. I learned later that he had been caught red-handed taking a $300 bribe to deep-six the case of a drug dealer he’d arrested earlier that year on the streets of Crown Heights. Unbeknownst to Eddie that day, in the Men’s Room at the Brooklyn Criminal Courts on Schermerhorn Street, their conversation was being recorded. Knapp investigators had persuaded the dealer to wear a wire. Eddie was allowed to resign from the NYPD without criminal prosecution in return for his depiction of the systemic, from-the-bottom-up corruption within the ranks of the NYPD. By Eddie’s account, his partners in the 80th Precinct spent a lot of their time chasing down gamblers and dealers to shake them down for protection money (known as “putting them on the pad”).

Back then when Eddie and I were rookies, it was not unheard of for street cops to take money. Hell, everybody took money. For most of us, it was a $5 tip for both you and your partner from a City Marshal to keep the peace at the scene of an eviction. A ‘pound’ and free meal for standing a fixed post in front of Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second Avenue because the Precinct Captain had a ‘contract’ with the owner. A sawbuck apiece to accompany the manager of the Fillmore East to the bank with the nightly take. It was viewed as a Gentlemen’s Agreement: a gratuity offered and bad manners to refuse. Of course, it did get out of hand; witness Eddie Droge. Eddie did what he had to do to avoid jail. Cops don’t ‘jail’ well.

Happy ending, though. Eddie became a teacher, got his PhD from Harvard, published his autobiography, “Patrolman: A Cop’s Story.” Lives in Massachusetts now.

Maybe I’ll give him a shout, talk about the Good Times.


  1. What a happy ending, Bob.!!!!! I can't help liking Eddie - and so glad he got his doctorate - and at Harvard!! Did the admissions folks know about his past??? Miz Straw who is in awe of cops and all law enforcers!!!

  2. Call him soon. A guy with that story, starting with having a wife and three kids at age twenty (did I get that right?!?!) is still inserting,not be sure.