December 6, 2007
Notice to readers: names of the individuals in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and the stupid.
In early 1990 I was a young rookie cop walking a beat in New York City. I was part of a field training unit sent out to patrol a housing development in upper Manhattan. It was a four-to-twelve shift on a January evening and I was deployed with a group of about twenty other rookies and a training sergeant to cover an area in Harlem. While patrolling alone, I rounded the corner at 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and I was confronted by an extremely tall man, well over six feet in height. He was wearing a long white jacket with a white, brimless cap, and he was covered with deep, red blotches of blood. My initial suspicions were immediately quelled when I realized he was a worker from the nearby meat packing plant. The man, whom I’ll refer to as Ned because I like that name for this story, was talking on a payphone and hung up when he saw me approaching.
“That was fast, I just called you, Officer.” He said.
“You just called me? I didn’t get any calls.” I checked the volume knob on my bulky, police-issue, handheld radio to see if I inadvertently left it off.
“I just called nine-one-one.” He told me. It was at the moment that the central dispatcher alerted my unit to this individual at our location. I answered and informed the dispatcher that I was on the scene. My sergeant, a street smart young woman, Sgt Wertz (I like that name for her) responded also that she was on the way to that location to meet me and she ordered all other training units to respond as well. It was a slow tour, and I knew that she wanted to instruct us young cops on how to write a proper field report, and nothing more.
Confident that I could handle this situation myself, I opened my memo book and took the cap off a ball point pen and started to interview my “complainant.”
“Why did you call the police?” was the obvious question.” Ned smiled and placed his hands on his blotchy, maroon and white butcher’s coat.
“Okay Officer, it’s like this. You see, I’m a bookie. Now, I know that’s against the law, but I had an argument with a woman who owes me money, and it might have gotten a bit out of control, and I might have pushed her a little, and I just wanted to call you guys and set the whole thing straight before she did.”
I put the memo book back into my back pocket and took another look at the blood stains on his uniform. Precisely at the moment when he completed his pitch to me about telling his side to the story which hadn’t been reported yet by the other person involved, Sgt. Wertz and a small platoon of cops turned the corner where I came from and appeared behind me. I’ll never forget Ned’s eyes widening and saying “Whoa” out loud.
Sgt. Wertz took command. After a few moments of questioning, Ned told a tale of asking a woman he knew for the sum of forty dollars which she allegedly owed him for betting on a ball game. Ned was enlightened enough to understand that cops tend to make sort of a frowny face when it comes to illegal gambling; but, as an otherwise law abiding citizen, he enlisted the aid of the police to assist with this somewhat thorny issue involving him and one of his betting clients.
“Where is this woman now?” Sgt. Wertz asked. Ned took a few steps westward and pointed to one of the corner buildings on the opposite side of the development. She allowed Ned to lead the way as we all escorted this young entrepreneur who suddenly became quiet. We learned what floor the woman lived on and what apartment she was in and Sgt. Wertz asked me and two other cops in my squad to accompany her to the apartment. She ordered the rest of the squad to wait in the lobby, all sixteen of them, and keep and eye on Ned.
The woman’s apartment was on the sixth floor at the end of the hallway. We knocked, and knocked again, and waited. As we were about to leave, someone’s eye appeared in the peephole. The door opened abruptly. There was a woman living there as Ned informed us, and she looked to be about one hundred years old if she was a day.
“How did you know that I needed you?” she asked. Sgt. Wertz looked at me. I shrugged.
“Do you need the police for any reason?” Sgt. Wertz asked. Cops always ask questions we know the answer to. It’s a method to catch people in a lie, though in this case Wertz was asking out of habit.
“Why yes, Officer. I don’t have a phone, and I couldn’t call.”
“Do you know a tall man wearing a white jacket and a hat?”
“Yes, yes. You have him? He’s the one. He did it to us.” Then the old woman turned around and shouted, as only an extremely elderly person can “Henry! It’s the police!” Henry turned out to be her husband who was older than his wife. No kidding, the woman was ninety three and the husband was ninety four. They had a very different story to tell than Ned did.
For about three or four days, Ned, who worked in the meat packing plant nearby as I deduced from his attire, confronted the woman and her husband while he took his lunch break and they were sitting in the bench in front of their apartment building. Each day, he’d ask them for money, and they’d tell him to get lost. Only, Ned didn’t get lost; and on that day, he followed them into the lobby of their building as they tried to escape his persistent and increasingly menacing presence.
The woman and her husband shuffled onto the elevator together and watched as the door closed on Ned’s face. That didn’t stop clever Ned as he ran up the stairs and met them as they came off the elevator. She screamed and fought as Ned tried to rip her pocketbook off her shoulder. Her husband pushed and shoved at him too and Ned knocked her over and dragged her down the hallway by the pocketbook strap. When he was able to yank the pocketbook free, the husband started beating Ned about the head and shoulders with his cane. Ned wisely dropped the bag and ran fled, unable to subdue a couple in their nineties. The first thing he did was to locate a payphone and call the police to get his side of the story in first before they did. That’s where we came in.
Sgt. Wertz heard enough and contacted the other officers guarding Ned in the lobby. “Put him in handcuffs” was all she said. The cop who answered said “10-4” but left the radio keyed long enough for us to overhear Ned in the background saying “Hey wait, I called the police, I called the police.”
I rode in the back seat of the patrol car with Ned, as he writhed in discomfort with his hands cuffed behind his back. The cop driving the RMP (that’s NYPD cop terminology for a police car: Radio Motor Patrol) ignored Ned as he ranted and complained to me, the senior officer behind the wheel, and to anyone who drove past us oblivious to his plight.
“You can’t lock me up, I’m the one who called the police.” He kept repeating.
“That’s right, you called the police, and we thank you.” I said.
“No Officer, I called you guys, so you can’t lock me up.”
“What? No way, you don’t think…” The other officer and I laughed out loud. It was clear that Ned truly believed that if a person called the police first, he was immune from being arrested no matter what he was accused of. Though Ned was the first person I encountered in my police career who acted under this misapprehension, I met many more folks like him during the course of my career who believed that they would be absolved of their crimes if they called nine-one-one before the other guy did.
“Hey hey, Ned, knock it off, you’re way too loud.” The other officer said. He stopped the car and chirped the siren at a garbage truck which was blocking the side street we were on.
“No, no. I’m not supposed to get arrested, this is wrong.” He griped. I couldn’t believe it. I never met anyone so dim-witted.
“What’s wrong is that you robbed somebody and called the police on yourself.” he turned around and looked Ned in the eye. “You have the right to remain silent…use it.”
Ned was a dumb guy, but he knew useful legal advice when he heard it. Not a word came out of his mouth and he drove with us the rest of the way to the precinct with his chin in his chest. Poor Ned, maybe he would have been a better bookie than a robber; but I’m willing to bet he never called the police again.
Harlem meat packing police police car robbery apartment housing development Amsterdam Avenue 125th Street Manhattan blood payphone bookie gambling pocketbook