December 22, 2014

Officer Down

In police work there is nothing that grabs your heart like the words that you hope you never hear over the radio, "Officer Down."

There is a rush of blood as your body prepares for whatever action you need to take; your breath gets short, your hands clench the steering wheel while you wait for the dispatcher to give the location. As soon as the location and the affected unit number is given, you slap on the lights and siren and take off. Maybe you swear a little or pray a little but it's balls to the wall as you figure out the shortest route to the downed cop.

Twice I have heard those words broadcast. The first time was instigated by some idiot who didn't like the advice given to him by a cop on a neighbor trouble call and wanted another cop to tell him what he wanted to hear. So he calls the station and tells the communications section that a cop has just been shot in front of his house. He certainly got his cops.

Luckily the unit who had just cleared the call was still close by and cancelled the call so everyone slowed down. But for thirty seconds or so about forty or fifty marked and unmarked units were screaming towards this fool's house. The dispatcher keeps repeating the order to stand down, slow down before someone gets hurt; back then the dispatchers were also cops and they know how we react to something like that.

The second time I heard that call was thirteen years later, and it was for real.

On October 30, 1990, Detective Wally Howard was working undercover for the Central New York Drug Task Force. He was conducting a direct buy from a dealer from the Bronx. He was surrounded by other undercover agents from the task force who had him under surveillance while the deal went down.

A day or two before I had made the arrangements for the transfer of $4000 from one of my confidential funds to the Task Force so they could make a sizable buy from this dealer. Wally had over forty grand  in cash when he was murdered - right in front of a half dozen under cover cops and cameras.
One suspect was armed with a .22 caliber handgun. He climbed into the driver’s seat of Officer Howard's car while second suspect walked to the passenger side window carrying a .357 revolver. The first suspect pulled his gun. As he did so, Officer Howard reached for his own firearm. The second suspect, standing outside the car, fired once, striking Officer Howard in the head at point-blank range. In the seconds before he was shot Officer Howard was able to fire his weapon twice, striking and wounding the first suspect. Both suspects attempted to flee the scene but were immediately apprehended by back-up officers. Officer Howard died at 8:15pm that evening without regaining consciousness.
You remember exactly where you are when and what you were doing when that call goes out. I think some kind of trauma occurs when those words slam into your ears. It's like a jackhammer ripping apart the synapses in your brain.
Officer Howard's 16 year-old killer was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2020. The other suspect was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. He will be eligible for parole in 2015.
The NYPD cops go through this far more often than most cops. It's a gut wrenching part of the job in one of the largest cities in the country.

There'll be a huge funeral. A sad, glorious, rousing send off by thousands of cops who, the next day, will suit up again, sit down in roll call to listen to the sergeant/lieutenant/captain tell them what they need to know for the day and walk off to find a car.

The days will pass. They always do. There is always another call. There is always another domestic, another assault, another missing child, another theft, another drunk, another accident. And while they're responding to another call, the cops who work the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn will pass by the location where Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were killed. And they'll remember. And it will be like it happened yesterday.

And after they retire they'll still remember. Those jackhammered synapses won't allow them to forget. Just as I can never forget.

1 comment:

WoFat said...

We all dreaded to hear "Officer down. Need an emergency unit on a Code 3!" I've heard it too often and I am thankfully out of that business now; I'll never again have to direct cops to intersections that have to be blocked on the way to the hospital. A surprising number of "good citizens" were in a hurry and didn't feel they had to obey the police blocking the streets. Some of them may even be healed up by now.