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©1999 - 2013
Edward D. Reuss
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THE FIGHTING 9TH PRECINCT

patchlg The 9th Precinct was called a "shithouse" by other cops, but among the men and women of that Command, it was called "The Fighting 9th". It was an appellation that reflected their pride in being listed among the ranks of the cops assigned there. The precinct club had the symbol of the precinct printed on sweatshirts. The symbol was a cartoon drawing of a dilapidated wooden outhouse with a small tattered pennant flying in the breeze from the roof. The crescent moon carved on the front with an old fashioned lantern hanging from the door left no doubt about the nature of the small building. Superimposed over the outhouse were the words "Fighting 9th".  It didn't take a newcomer long to realize that it was a distinct honor to wear that famous symbol.

As a rookie, I was assigned to the 4th Precinct on Manhattan's Lower West Side and many times I would work with 9th Precinct cops at large demonstrations, parades, and other division or borough details. They always impressed me with their confidence and the famous 9th Precinct attitude. They had an esprit de corps that was evident to anyone who took the time to notice the precinct numerals on the lapels of their collars. There were some high-ranking police bosses that seemed to resent the devil-may-care attitude of the 9th Precinct cops.  Even the motto and the picture of the outhouse irritated them.

When I was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in August of l981, a two-star Chief of Police addressed the soon to be promoted candidates in the Police Academy. He was a tall guy, and when he entered the crowded classroom full of new lieutenants, he began his talk by slamming his open palm on the podium and shouting, "The hook is dead!" The class burst out in laughter at that declaration. The reaction seemed to take the Chief by surprise as his faced flushed in embarrassment. But he continued unfazed and insisted that the busiest precincts would get the bulk of the newly promoted lieutenants. In fairness to the class, their cynicism was justified by their years of experience on the job. The politics of the moment proved the Chief correct. I was assigned to the 9th Precinct.
 A "hook" is a person of influence who has the ability to effect assignments of personnel within the job. It is interesting to note that "hook" was a term used by Manhattan cops, but a similar term used by Brooklyn cops would be "rabbi". In that way, cops would often reveal what Patrol Borough they worked in by the slang terms they used.
 
9thprcdoorThe 9th Precinct was located at 321 East 5th Street, between First and Second Avenues on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The block was primarily residential with old walkup tenements on both sides. A tavern named "Cal's" located a few doors west of the stationhouse was a favorite watering hole. The precinct faced a small vest pocket park, that in l981 was usually inhabited by homeless people and a few of the local residents who hadn't surrendered the park. Years ago, the original motion picture,  "The Naked City" used the 9th Precinct for scenes. More recently, the TV shows "Kojak" and "NYPD Blue" used the front of the precinct for production of those successful and long-running shows. It wasn't hard to understand the reasons why the entertainment industry used it for location shots. The 9th was the quintessential New York City police station.

 It was a hot and muggy afternoon when I first stepped into the doorway and entered the muster room of that famous Command. Police Officer Charlie Nelson was behind the massive desk. Charlie had been assigned to the 9th for his entire police career. He was a man with the look of a prizefighter. The bridge of his nose looked like it had been broken a few times and his strong jaw looked like it could take a good shot. When he fixed his gaze on you, his experienced eyes would assess you as only a street-smart cop could. His voice had a rasping quality and his vocabulary was filled with colorful slang, to say the least.

Charlie liked to chew on Tootsie-rolls while he worked the desk. If there was one thing that I would always remember about Charlie it was his ability to remain unfazed throughout the most trying and stressful tours. He had a strong handshake. When you sized him up, despite the fact that he was only about five foot eight inches tall, you realized that you wouldn't want to tangle with him in a streetfight. Charlie was what they call a "standup guy". Whenever I reported for duty as the Desk Officer in the 9th, I was always glad to see that he was working.  The 9th was extremely busy at times, and the sheer number of arrests and other police business could be overwhelming.  Charlie Nelson was a pillar of strength at times when I sometimes felt that I was "up to my ass in alligators".


                               PO Charlie Nelson, 9th Precinct, NYPD
                               Photo Courtesy of Mrs Anne Nelson

The first thing that struck me as I looked about the muster room, was the wall behind Charlie. Along with the large American flag above his head was a row of plaques directly below the flag. The wall had been covered with paneling and the plaques were displayed with much care and reverence.  The plaques were inscribed with the names and photographs of members of the 9th Precinct who had been killed in the line of duty.  Each year, on the anniversary of the deaths of each member, flowers would be placed in front of the appropriate plaque with names that were seared in the minds of the cops of the Fighting 9th.They were displayed with pride and loving care by cops who carried on a great tradition. The names on the plaques evoked memories of the violence of the decades of the '60s and '70s.


                                The Desk in the Muster Room of the Fighting 9th Precinct
The plaques behind the Desk in honor ot the cops who were killed in line of duty:  Ptl. Henry Walburger, Ptl. Lawrence Stefane, Ptl. Timothy M. Murphy, Ptl. Gregory P. Foster,  Ptl. Rocco W. Laurie, Sgt Frederick T. Reddy,  Ptl. Andrew Glover

The names of the police officers who lost their lives while serving as members of the 9th Precinct have great historical importance. Those officers were lost in an era of unparalleled violence. The crime that engulfed the City of New York and other cities of these United States coincided with the War in Vietnam and politically motivated acts of terrorism.
 
tompkinsThe Lower East Side was known to be the harbinger of the latest fad to hit the country.  Tompkins Square Park located between East 7th Street and East 10th Street from Avenue A to Avenue B was the center of the activities for each new lifestyle coming into mode. The Beat Generation of the l950s, The Flower Children of the 1960s, the anti-war fervor of the l970s all seemed to find their beginnings in Tompkins Square Park.

The Commanding Officer at the time was a deputy inspector. The cops called him the "old Redhead" for obvious reasons. Morale at the time was pretty low. An ongoing internal investigation of alleged corruption had brought intense staff supervision to the command. In my experience, I had always found that staff supervision by non-line bosses led to a breakdown in the spirit of the troops on patrol. The staff supervisors were from higher levels of command and usually far removed from patrol functions. The Commanding Officer welcomed me and I thought he was glad to have me assigned to his command. He kept to his office on the first floor most of the time. During the Christmas of l981 the disgruntled troops of the 9th Precinct placed an artificial Christmas tree in the muster room of the stationhouse. They decorated the tree with white condoms and UF 95 tags.  (UF 95 tags were identification forms that were placed on dead human bodies at homicides or in other cases) Actually, the tree looked festive with the multi-colored lights and tinsel. The CO took it in good humor and the tree was allowed to remain decorated with the Trojans and Sheiks to the delight of the cops.

The only other lieutenant that worked the desk in the 9th was Lieutenant Robert Hulsmann. Bob was a popular and respected boss. I think he was glad to have another lieutenant to work with. I noticed immediately that he was left-handed. His penmanship was something to seen. Being left-handed myself, I was keenly aware of how other southpaws wrote with a pen. Some lefties hooked their wrists in an awkward position, others didn't. When I would watch Bob write his entries in the Command Log, the entries would rival a doctor's prescription. His writing would challenge the most gifted decoder of English text. This proved to be an invaluable tool when staff supervisors visited the Command. They would peer at his log entries and their eyes would glaze over as they struggled to read the script. In frustration, they would turn their attention to other records that weren't as challenging. The cops always were happy to see Lieutenant Hulsmann on the desk. They knew that although he was a ranking officer, he was still a cop at heart. For such a boss, they worked with light hearts in a profession that sometimes discouraged the toughest among them. A guy like Bob Hulsmann was of great worth in a command like the 9th Precinct in that place in time. His temperament and sense of humor lifted our spirits and made each tour a lighter duty to perform.

In those days, they would give two days of orientation for newly assigned members of a patrol precinct. I got a locker and unpacked my uniforms and equipment and was introduced to the various members of the Command. After a few hours of this, I noticed a cop standing on the front steps of the precinct. His name was Nick Padula. Nick was one of the precinct PBA delegates. He eyed me up and down when I told him I needed a driver to show me around the streets of the precinct. He got the keys to an available radio car and we went on patrol together.

Nick had been in the 9th Precinct for quite a number of years and was familiar with the street conditions. The West Side of the precinct from First Avenue to Broadway was mostly a mixed commercial area with some good restaurants. The historic and famous tavern McSorley's Ale House on East 7th Street and the bohemian St.Mark's Place were well-known landmarks. Astor Place and the Cooper Union Hall were located on the West Side of the precinct. The East Side was a different story.  Avenues A, B. and C ran between East Houston Street and East 14th Street. Much of that area resembled the City of Berlin after the Allied bombing raids. Entire buildings were reduced to rubble from numerous fires that had destroyed blocks of dwellings. The neighborhood had been given the notorious name "Alphabet City". Drug trafficking was out of control. The rubble of the empty buildings provided excellent cover for the sale of narcotics. The dealers had created a labyrinth of connecting tunnels through the walls and floors of the dilapidated tenements. They had placed boobytraps in doorways and staircases designed to cause injury. The dealers had a system of signals to warn of the approach of cops. It was comical to hear the whistles and other signals of the steerers and petty drug peddlers.

What astounded me was the obvious presence of legions of law enforcement personnel from various agencies. This was fertile ground for making drug collars. It reminded me of shooting fish in a barrel. There were so many junkies and coke addicts walking around, it was easy to "collar up" with drug arrests. Later, as I became more familiar with the conditions, I was appalled by the great danger to the uniformed patrol cops. For instance, on a certain day tour, we heard the transmission of a "man with a gun" chasing an unidentified male down East 3rd Street from Avenue B towards Avenue A. We responded and listened to follow up descriptions of both males involved in the chase. We cut off the first male and watched as the pursuing "man with a gun" approached. We had our revolvers drawn and assumed the combat position. He turned out to be an on duty narcotics police officer. His appearance belied his occupation. He looked like another junkie to us. The NYPD Narcotics Division, the DEA, and other Federal agencies had teams operating in the same area. The 9th Precinct SNEU Unit (Special Narcotics Enforcement Unit) in plainclothes as well as the rookie cops from NSU (Neighborhood Stabilization Unit) on foot patrol were always in the area. The possibility of a tragic incident of mistaken identity in a confrontation with other police officers was a constant worry for the cops of the 9th Precinct. Another problem that the patrol cops faced was bogus radio runs generated by drug dealers. I recall responding to a report of a "man with a gun" at an address on East 2nd Street off Avenue B and when we arrived on the scene, a male was fleeing from that address with a sawed-off shotgun under his long raincoat. His competitors in the drug trade had apparently used us to cut him out of the business. Drug dealers would often conceal sawed-off shotguns with shoulder slings under those coats. Under the street conditions in the 9th Precinct, the six- shot revolver just didn't cut the mustard. Backup guns were a must and most cops carried them. Double layers of kevlar bulletproof vests were also commonly worn. The popular 9mm could penetrate the early versions of kevlar vests, so the second layer was necessary. On a warm, humid day, those two layers were hot and heavy.   

Nick and I sat at the corner of Avenue B and East 2nd Street and watched the traffic enter and leave the rubble of the buildings in broad daylight. The presence of a marked police car made no difference to those legions of drug users who actually lined up on the burned out stairwells to make their buys. The drug dealers maintained order. Cutting the line was frowned upon. The area was later described in an official NYPD training bulletin as "open air drug market". The bulletin went on to lament that this "bazaar-like" atmosphere sent a powerful message to residents and visitors alike. A police officer could not help but be effected by cynicism.

I was working a late tour on patrol a few months later. The streets were empty at that hour and I looked down East 2nd Street as a young couple furtively made their way into the area and entered an abandoned building to make a buy. They emerged a few minutes later and hustled back towards the West Side in an excited manner. That illustrated the problem that this society was confronted with. The thrill that the couple felt in making an illegal buy in a dangerous area explained the attraction that drugs had for many people. They risked personal injury, possible rape of the female, and robbery to make a purchase of cocaine. Many of the young police officers had told me that many girls seemed totally addicted to the use of cocaine.  In the social setting, the best route to sexual favors was through the availability of drugs. "Nose candy" got a guy laid. Cops were now exposed to a ruinous temptation. Forbidden fruit always had a strong attraction. 

Later, I would inspect the interior of a building off Avenue C and walked to the roof of the adjoining building. I walked down one flight from the roof and was amazed to see that the entire stairwell from the first floor was filled with garbage for six stories! The fire hazard alone boggled the mind. There was no way a person could walk up the stairs due to the tons of trash that had been thrown into the open stairwell. In many of the abandoned buildings, the homeless had created living spaces that seemed to be right out of a Charles Dickens novel. With no heat or electricity, the homeless used candles, and cardboard boxes for warmth. I thought that if a person were to be murdered and thrown into the six stories of rubbish in the staircase, the body would decay and not be discovered.  In later years, when "Gentrification" caused these homeless to vacate, they relocated to public areas. Tompkins Square Park became a makeshift home for scores of such homeless, but that was in the future. "Gentrification" was a euphemism for reclaiming the abandoned stock of housing for redevelopment into condominiums. The Lower East Side would be the scene of large disorders in later years by the homeless who had taken over Tompkins Square Park.

Working a tour on the desk in the 9th Precinct wasn't complete without a visit from Dirty Ruthie.  Ruthie was a regular visitor who prided herself in shocking men with displays of her private parts. She would always wear a loose fitting skirt while walking her dog. The dog complemented the appearance of Ruthie. She would hoist her skirt over her hips to show off her body on a moment's notice. Another sport that she loved was to walk up to an unsuspecting cop and grab a fistful of his testicles. When cops would assemble at large demonstrations, she would be in her glory. It was not unusual to see a uniformed Captain of Police running away from a crazy lady to avoid having his private parts fondled. The ranks of assembled cops would roar with laughter at this loss of dignity by one of their bosses.

Ruthie liked to visit our precinct and on occasion we would use her skills for our own ends. For instance, there was an Inspector from the division who would visit the stationhouse in the mornings when the late tour crews had been relieved from an exhausting tour of duty. The duty chart in those years left a forty-five minute overlap between the late tour and day tour crews. The last 45 minutes of the late tour was supposedly used for in-service training in the lounge on the 2nd floor of the stationhouse. The late tour cops were so tired, they had all they could do to stay awake. The Inspector would visit the lounge to take head count and ensure that a training film was on the TV. One morning, an enterprising cop noticed Ruthie hanging around the sitting room. He told her that a top ranking cop would be coming down the stairs and the cops would appreciate it if she would size up his manhood. As the Inspector came down the staircase, Ruthie stood at the foot of the stairs and coyly asked if he was such a high-ranking boss. When he responded in the affirmative, Ruthie did her thing and reached out and deftly fondled his groin. The Inspector jumped in indignation and the howls of the cops echoed in the hallways as he left the building. The Inspector took it in good humor.

This is a story written by retired Detective Bob McFeeley about Ruthie:

The 9th was my first house out of the academy, joined the NYPD Oct 1, 1962 and was assigned to the 9th in February 1963 to 1969. The 9th Pct. Created the most memorable years of my career in the NYPD. One memorable moment was during the Vietnam anti-war demonstrations I was working in the radio car patrolling Ave A to Ave D 10th to 14th street and a 10-13 came over the air on 42nd street. The dispatcher franticly called for cars to respond from the nearby precinct’s no one answered the call. The dispatcher kept calling each precinct until he got to the 9th, and every car in the precinct responded. I was so proud of the guys I worked with; we were like the Calvary charging up First Avenue. Other memories were of Ruthie and her three dogs. Ruthie for those who don’t know was a middle age prostitute who loved the cops in the 9th. One day I was pulling a foot post on 3rd Avenue and E10th when a bus driver jumped off the bus and told me there was a crazy lady on the bus with three dogs. He complained that she got on the bus with these dogs and he told her “she can’t bring dogs on the bus”, and she responded, “I have a pass that allows me to do it”. He asked where the pass was, and she pulled up her dress and with no undergarments and flashed the driver. I use to tell my wife all the stories and it’s a good thing I did because one day my father in law, who was a cab driver picked up Ruthie with the dogs and he complained just as the Bus driver did. He told her my son-in law is a police offer in this Precinct, she asked for my name, when he told her she responded “Oh I know Bob.”

All the cops in the Command were familiar with the so-called "Men's Shelter" located at 8 East 3rd Street. That location accounted for numerous radio runs from disputes with knives to dead human bodies. Police Officer Richie Innes would remember one of those runs for the rest of his life. Richie responded on a report of an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) in front of the Men's Shelter. Unknown to him, an eager ambulance attendant had reached the location just prior to his arrival. The attendant carried a baseball bat for protection when he responded to the shelter. The EDP, who was a giant of a man, had snatched the baseball bat from the hands of the ambulance attendant.
 
As Officer Innes pulled up to the scene and got out of his radio car, the EDP walked from behind the ambulance and struck him in the back of his skull. Fortunately, Richie's partner and backup units arrived to subdue the "homeless man".  Richie recovered from his injuries and returned to full duty. He has since been promoted to higher rank.

The "Men's Shelter" was one dangerous location. Homeless males in Manhattan would be directed to the Men's Shelter for a meal or counseling. The ordinary derelict was seldom a problem for cops; however, the EDP or the fugitive from justice was another question.  Men, who were wanted on warrants, or criminals on the lam, could survive quite well by getting a meal at the Shelter and at night prowl the streets of Manhattan. Such men could easily blend in with the homeless or derelicts that sought shelter and meals from the charitable institutions on the Bowery and the Men's Shelter itself. A cop never knew whether he was dealing with a truly needy person or a dangerous felon.
 
In the early '80s, the homeless problem became a national issue. The streets of New York were filled with unfortunates living in cardboard boxes and in the labyrinths of the subway system. The 9th Precinct seemed to be at the epicenter of that problem, but that's a story for another day.

©Copyright  l999 Edward D. Reuss

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