by Kung Fu Zu 12/17/14
Given the recent discussions about questionable police conduct on Staten Island, I thought I would offer a different view of the NYPD based on personal experience.
Some years back, I was in NYC for business. On the recommendation of a relative, I stayed at a new boutique hotel located in the lower forties. I do not recall the exact address. This hotel was owned and run by a woman who had moved to Manhattan a few years before. For whatever reason, she decided to venture out on her own and become an entrepreneur. As anyone who has started a small business will know, the owner will be involved at every level of the business. Such was the case with this woman, who answered the phone, ran the front desk and showed guests to their rooms.
Having run a small business myself, I was always interested in speaking to others who had the gumption to jump out of the corporate world with a vision of building a new venture from the ground up. So, I was naturally curious about the hotel owner’s story. After chatting with her at the front desk, I invited the lady to an early dinner so we could exchange business tales.
At the agreed hour, we met in the lobby and started out to a small deli she frequented. We strolled down to 38th or 39th street and turned left. About two thirds down the block there was a black woman in white stretch pants, with a distinctive floral design, sitting on the stoop. She was speaking to a black man who reminded me of J.J. in “Good Times”. The man was wearing a pair of colored jeans and a dress shirt which had not been tucked into his pants. But his real fashion statement was the railroad engineer’s cap atop his head.
Surprisingly for New York City, there was only one parked car on the whole road. And it sat just across from the where the man and woman were talking. The car’s windows were closed and the doors were locked. Nevertheless, a quick glaze was all one needed to see a back seat full of clothes and a briefcase on the front seat.
My acquaintance and I kept walking, but by the time we reached the intersection the “do not walk” sign was flashing so we stopped. While we stood there waiting there was a loud “thump” behind us. I looked back and was surprised to see a pair of legs hanging from the car’s window. In short order, the torso, arms and head emerged from the car holding an armful of clothes. These body parts belonged to the man in the engineer cap who had obviously broken the car window, (there was broken glass scattered on the sidewalk next to the car) in order to help himself to contents of the lonely compact. These were passed to the woman in the stretch pants who took the loot inside a nearby door. This unloading operation continued as we, and others, watched in full daylight. Once the car had been emptied of its valuables, the Engineer, as I will now call him, sauntered back down the block in the direction from which we had come. He waited patiently at the corner, for the light to change, and then disappeared behind the buildings on the next block.
Both my date and I were amazed at the brazen behavior of the thieves and discussed what we should do. Luckily, there was a telephone booth across the street and my date thought it would be best to immediately call the police and report the crime.
We made the call and the police operator asked us to wait for a policeman to show up and contact us. We resigned ourselves to standing around waiting for a patrolman who might take some time to contact us. So you can imagine our amazement when in a couple of minutes a blue-jeaned blond haired man with a Fu Man Chu moustache approached us and pulled out from beneath his shirt a gold detective badge hanging from a heavy chain around his neck. He was an undercover cop who happened to working in the area.
We described the crime and people involved and the cop, at once, knew who we were talking about. The policeman told us the man in question was a notorious petty criminal living on the government’s dime in a “welfare” hotel around the corner. According to the detective, the good citizens of the U.S.A. were paying the hotel $700 or $800 every two weeks to afford the Engineer a roof over his head.
Taking a small walkie-talkie out of his back pocket, our new friend contacted uniformed police in the area, explained the situation, and asked them to pick up the Engineer and bring him to the scene of the crime. A police van sped up to where we were waiting within five minutes. In the back sat the Engineer. My undercover friend asked me if the Engineer was the person I had seen stealing the car’s contents. I asked to have the Engineer step out of the van so I could see him clearly. He followed this request and I confirmed it was he. They packed him back into the van and departed. One of the police who had come in the van stayed at the scene and advised us the Engineer had entered his hotel only minutes before they arrived, so the timing of his arrival matched that of our phone call to the police.
About this time, the owner of the car, a young Iranian student, arrived and was shocked to see his empty car with its shattered back window. He started moaning about what had happened and that he had not only lost some clothes, but that his wallet and watch had also been in the car. The police listened patiently and then said we needed to come with them to the precinct and make a report.
When we arrived at the station, sat the Engineer and his lady friend where sitting in a small room. We went into a separate room which had the stolen clothes, watch and wallet laid out on a table. The police had found these in the possession of the Engineer’s lady-friend.
As we waited, my date and I spoke with our undercover friend who thanked us again for our actions. He was especially pleased that we had handled things exactly as the police recommend, i.e. we saw a crime being committed, reported it and worked with the police to solve it. He further stressed that we were absolutely correct not to approach the criminal “in the act” as could have led to violence and our injury. I vaguely recall him mentioning something about the possibility of “being stuck with a knife”. He then asked, “You aren’t from New York are you?” We both confirmed his suspicion and asked him why he would ask that. His answer was that basically New Yorkers wouldn’t normally get involved with such things.
The Engineer and his lady friend were then instructed to walk out to us for identification purposes. My date and I re-confirmed they were the people we had originally seen committing the crime. Both were then marched off to some holding cell.
Our undercover friend mentioned that the man was regularly brought to the station as a suspect in some recent theft and held over the weekend. But come Monday morning, the police could not hold him any longer because nobody would come forward as an official witness. Thus, the Engineer would go back to his government paid hotel room until the next encounter with the law. But this time the police were all smiles. The Engineer had been caught stealing property with a value over $1,500.00. And since we were willing to testify against him, the police were sure the Engineer would be going away for a couple of years or so.
After filling out the necessary papers, the police asked us to sign the official report as witnesses. I believe having seen the Engineer up close and, more importantly, the Engineer having seen us my date became nervous. She hesitated to sign saying she was somewhat worried he might come after her if she did. I believe the policemen actually did point out this possibility to us and understood her reticence.
I smiled at the policeman and asked, “Where do I sign?” He showed me where and, with something of a theatrical flourish, I put down my name, commenting as I did, “The guy will have to come a long way to find me.” I was not being brave, just realistic. I lived in Hong Kong.
We shook hands with our undercover friend and he left us in the care of a young uniformed officer by the name of O’Shaughnessy. I made some observation about every uniformed officer I had seen being Irish, and the young man smiled. As we were leaving, I mentioned to officer O’Shaughnessy how impressed I was with the way the police had handled the situation, especially with their efficiency. He grinned, shook my hand and replied, “Well, you know we are New York’s Finest.”