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No Lights, No SirensThe Corruption and Redemption of an Inner City Cop
By Robert Cea
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Robert Cea
All right reserved.
It was the early eighties. New York City was just starting to recover from the bankrupt years of the seventies, though the crime rate was at an all-time high and continuing to rocket out of proportion. Mayor Ed "How am I doing?" Koch was too busy selfpromoting or writing books to realize just how bad the city really was. Of course, New York has always been a dangerous and volatile place, but things were out of control: 1,826 murders, 3,747 rapes, and 100,667 robberies in 1981. The murder rate would climb to 2,445 by 1989. To top it off, an average of five police officers a year were murdered. Yes, New York City was a war zone, and crack had not even reared its ugly head, at least not yet. When it did, things would get much, much worse before they got better. I was heading right for it. My number had been called by the department; I was entering the New York City Police Academy and I couldn't wait.
My older brother, Jeff, had already been on the job for over a year. He was exactly where he wanted to be: The juice, the action, it was what made it all so real for him. It's what he had wanted to do his whole life, be a cop, and it's what I had wanted to do since I could remember. Jeff has a great physical presence -- he's a natural leader -- and with his uniform on and the medals that were starting to accumulate over his shield, he seemed larger than life. I would follow him anywhere. I wanted to feel that juice. I wanted to know that what I was about to do had some powerful meaning behind it. The long and short of it: I just wanted to help people.
Jeff worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and at that time it was a virtual drugstore. The operation pressure points and TNT drug initiatives that solely targeted narcotics trafficking and street-level sales hadn't yet been established, so the dealers and the junkies ran the show. Jeff would call me up on a Friday when he was doing a four-to-twelve tour and I would hang out with him on his foot post. I was a second-year student in college, and having been raised in a working-class section of Brooklyn, this gray, dark world was very unfamiliar to me. I was mesmerized by the tight, narrow streets where tenement buildings were piled one on top of the other, so close together that, looking up from the ground, they all seemed to meld into scarred brick monoliths. The burned-out storefronts, the garbage trailing from the doorways to the streets. The rat-infested alleys, the dark and dangerous courtyards where murder was a simple afterthought, the abandoned buildings where the walking dead fucked, sucked, and skin-popped to live. These images triggered something deep inside me. I was hooked, and there was no turning back.
Each borough has its main thoroughfare: Fordham Road, the Bronx; Broadway, Manhattan; Queens Boulevard, Queens; Hyland Boulevard, Staten Island. And Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn. Flatbush is the main artery carrying lifeblood through the center of the borough, running the entire length, south to north, for approximately eleven miles. It is said to be the longest avenue in the world. The south end connects Brooklyn to Rockaway, Queens, via the Marine Park Bridge; the north end connects Brooklyn with Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge. Every couple of miles, the neighborhoods flow from good to bad, a microcosm of the borough. The neighborhoods at the south end of Flatbush, where I was raised, run from Flatlands to Marine Park. Clean mom-and-pop stores, wide streets with spotless one-family houses dot the area. As you travel north, Flatbush Avenue narrows and snakes through the middle of Brooklyn, from East Flatbush through Crown Heights. Overcrowded and unkempt four-story apartment buildings, liquor stores, and "pot spots" are on every corner. Farther north, the dangerous urban landscape gives way to 526 acres of rolling meadows and luxuriant greenery: Prospect Park. Flatbush Avenue cuts through the eastern end of the park, and it is here that the affluent neighborhood of Park Slope begins. The tree-lined streets consist of four-story brownstones, turn-of-the-century mansions, and art deco apartment buildings.
Some people have been born and died on this avenue. If there really are eight million stories in New York, this avenue owns half of them.
The drive down Flatbush Avenue this morning seemed different to me. Yes, it was the same place I'd walked and driven down for the past twenty years. Same people, same pristine storefronts -- Ebinger's Bakery, Joe's candy store, Gus's delicatessen, Louie's meat market, the family-run businesses that made the borough famous, stores I'd shopped at since I was a child. Yet now, even though I hadn't had one day of training, I started to look at it all from a different perspective. I created scenarios in my head. If a man was robbing Joe's, how would I stop him before anyone got hurt? A woman is screaming in an alley, two ways in, which is the safest and quickest route? The thought that I would be out there in those streets in six short months, making it a better place to live, filled me with incredible purpose. I was now looking at men and women twice my age as if I were their keeper. I wanted to chase away the monsters that had stalked these streets for so many years. I thought of the three thousand other recruits who were coming on to the job with me this day. Were they thinking and feeling the same thoughts I was?
Excerpted from No Lights, No Sirens by Robert Cea Copyright © 2005 by Robert Cea. Excerpted by permission.
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