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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

A CHRISTMAS EVE

"Patrol is the backbone of the job".   All cops hear the rhetoric, but every cop knows that those who on patrol are not considered on the fast track to success in the world of policing.  The term "patrol" does not create the proper image for the uniformed cops who perform the most difficult duty in the world of policing. "First Responder" is a more accurate job description for these street cops.  As first responders, they answer radio assignments that range from the birth of a child to homicides in progress.  They must be prepared to face danger at a moment's notice.  They don't have the luxury of knowing what awaits them when they arrive on the scene.  The decisions that they make are crucial.  Lives sometimes hang in the balance on their judgment calls.

The critical incident and post-traumatic stress that most cops experience during their careers can leave scars that are difficult to heal.  Over the years, the scars may fade, but never really disappear. We are only now realizing how important debriefing of first responders to critical incidents has become.  Cops who work as first responders see much death and violence.  They are not made of stone.

I looked in some of my old memo books and checked the entries for each year. Christmas Eve 1963 found me on foot patrol on Sullivan Street in the old Fourth Precinct. I was lucky to be working the evening tour. The Sullivan Street post ran from Broome Street north to West Houston Street. Sullivan Street cut through a quiet residential section of the precinct.  North of Spring Street, it seemed more like a part of Greenwich Village. Later in the year, St. Anthony's Feast would transform Sullivan Street into a culinary delight that rivaled the more publicized San Gennaro's Festival in Little Italy.   During the Christmas season, the Church on West Houston Street was lit up with lights and displayed a life-sized Nativity scene. Most of the residents were Italian-American as were the shops that lined the street. The aroma of fresh-baked Italian bread, cheeses, and other mouth-watering foods filled the air.

Although the Police Department was still pretty much an Irish institution,
Italian-Americans had joined the NYPD in large numbers. Detective Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was the only NYPD member who was killed in the line of duty outside the United States.  He had been assassinated in Italy while investigating the "Black Hand" organization. Mario Biaggi had been awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor. He was in fact, the most decorated cop in the history of the NYPD. In the next few years, thousands of cops with Italian-American names would join the NYPD.  Cops with names like Rocco Laurie and Joseph Piagentini would fall in the line of duty during the violence of the coming years. (Photo at right, PO Adam DAmico, MTS on decoy duty in 1977)

The winter of 1963 was the beginning of the end of an age of innocence. It had only been a few weeks since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and there was still much sadness throughout America. The years that were to follow were filled with social turmoil and violence. The murder of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964 would signal the beginning of a social decline that would continue for decades until the recent turnaround in New York City.  But, that was in the future.

The first flakes started to fall as the parishioners were starting to arrive for Midnight Mass at St. Anthony's. The snowfall was almost too picturesque to be true. I glanced uptown at the Empire State Building in the distance illuminated with Christmas colors.  When they closed the doors to the church, I could hear the church music begin and a silence fell over Sullivan Street. It was almost end of tour as I walked down to Spring Street past the deserted bocci courts. I navigated through the traffic of Canal Street and darted into St. John's Lane.

All the foot cops coming in from post would hide in the shadows of that narrow alleyway. Technically, we were off post. We were supposed to remain on our post relieving points. It was an outmoded procedure that no one had bothered to change but an easy complaint for an over-zealous "shoo-fly". Patrolmen Bill Jasko, Jack Britton, John Garzino, Jack Zaborowski, John Ziemblicki, Mike Rusinyak and others would crowd into that narrow street.  It was comical to see cops running in every direction if the "shoo-fly" captain came by.

In those days, the patrol sergeant would march the platoon in ranks out of the precinct and order the cops to "take your posts". A few years later, that practice would be discontinued. Cops were to become the targets of domestic terrorists. Some were assassinated on foot patrol and attacked with automatic weapons while in radio cars. When the late tour platoon marched out of the stationhouse, we would go in to sign the return roll-call book. 

A lot of us would travel to work wearing our duty shoes and uniform trousers so we could make a quick change and make the next ferryboat home to Staten Island.  I threw on my civilian jacket and took my uniform shirt home for the wash as I ran to catch the subway at Franklin Street. I flashed my "tin" at the token booth clerk and walked through the entrance onto the deserted platform. The lights of the "Local" lit up the dark tunnel and I stepped back as the train roared into the station. I thought of a recent incident that occurred. One night, I was on the way home and just a few riders were on board.  I made it a habit not to sit next to a doorway and settled into a seat in the middle of the subway car. The next stop was the Chambers Street Station and the few riders got off to transfer to the "Express". The Express train arrived and the platform was again deserted when it pulled out of the station. The Local train still sat in the station with the doors open.  I was alone and lost in my thoughts when I first sensed their presence. I regretted not taking a seat facing the platform when I first got onto the subway.  My back was to the platform, so the two "mutts" were behind me. I was at a disadvantage, but I could see them both reflected in the windows of the subway car as they positioned themselves at two doors of the car.  One of them had a long walking stick and tapped it against the metal subway car. They both had their feet against the doors to prevent them from closing. I was between the two of them as they glanced down the subway platform and back into the car at their "prey".

They guy with the stick was getting nervous. I stopped watching his reflection in the windows and turned slowly to make direct eye contact with him. I already had my service revolver concealed in my left hand when he started to notice a few things.  The folded dark blue shirt that covered my left hand and the black uniform shoes and socks was a hint. His eyes widened suddenly as he yanked his foot away from the door.  Alarmed, he shook his head and both of them "booked" up the stairs of the station. Commuting to work could be very interesting for a cop. We didn't work banker's hours.  You could meet a lot of interesting characters riding a subway car after midnight. A cop could gain a lot of empathy for people who were forced to ride the subways to work.

The crime in the subway system did not go unnoticed by the citizens of New York City.  The violence in the subways rose to such a level in the 60's, that overtime tours were authorized while they recruited and trained cops for the Transit Authority Police Department. The pay for cops was about $6500 dollars a year.  I had worked with a Wall Street firm when I was discharged from the US Army.  They thought I was crazy when I joined the NYPD. The Christmas bonus given that year nearly matched a cop's annual salary.  

On that Christmas Eve of 1963 I got home without incident.  My first Christmas on "The Job" is still a pleasant memory.

Copyright  © 2000 Edward D. Reuss

 

 

 

 

Season's Greetings to all the men and women of the NYPD and especially to those who are "first responders" on patrol duty.

 

Copyright © 2000 Edward D. Reuss

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