FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

News

An Active-Duty NYPD Officer Talks Cop Killings and the Brutal Side of Police Work

"It just seems like the good guys became the bad guys and vice versa. People are siding with the perps."
October 30, 2015, 6:00pm
​ Not the cop in this piece. Photo via Flickr user Stewart Butterfield

This past fall, thousands of mourners gathered to grieve Officer Randolph Holder of the New York City Police Department, who was shot to death on October 20. Holder was the fourth NYPD officer killed by gunfire in just 11 months—a huge spike compared to the typical number of cop deaths each year. The local surge in police casualties has roughly coincided with protests across the country over police killings of unarmed black men, including that of Eric Garner, who died on Staten Island last year after being choked by an NYPD officer. Cops feel like they're being targeted now, and tensions between officers and anti-brutality protesters seem to rise by the day. Police unions in New York and elsewhere went ballistic this week after filmmaker Quentin Tarantino made headlines by loudly participating in a rally in New York City where he called some of them "murderers."

Advertisement

Some critics have argued that Holder's alleged killer, 30-year-old Tyrone Howard, slipped through a negligent criminal justice system, a point of view even held by some of Howard's family. The father of two was released into a drug-diversion program following an arrest last year for dealing narcotics, but was suspected in previous shootings as well. Still, calls for a more stringent review of diversion candidates in the wake of Holder's death have been largely drowned out by the broader political push to reform the criminal justice system's targeting of minorities with tough sentences for nonviolent crimes.

Emotions are running high in America's law enforcement community, so I met up with an off-duty NYPD officer for a midnight drink at an Upper West Side bar to hear his take. We talked about how the shootings are changing the relationship between the NYPD and the public they're supposed to be protecting.

VICE: So tell me what's going on with these shootings.
Active-duty NYPD Officer: Things are escalating. You're seeing a change in sentiment. This country is becoming very anti-police. It's not just here, either—it's everywhere. It just seems like the good guys became the bad guys and vice versa. People are siding with the perps.

But that can't just be happening out of nowhere. Don't you think it has something to do with all the cop violence that's come to light recently?
What's going on is that people are seeing on the internet, on YouTube or whatever, the brutal side of what police work is about. That's about 5 to 10 percent of police work.

Advertisement

Killing people?
Shooting people. Bad guys. I don't want to shoot anyone, but sometimes you get into a situation where you have to.

Not all of those killings happened because of straightforward self-defense by cops, though, right?
Well, there are some knuckleheads who join the force because they want to be tough guys, and they sometimes act like assholes and make us all look bad. But 95 percent of our interactions end positively. Sure, people are yelling and screaming and nobody's happy if we're there. But nine times out of ten no one gets hurt and everyone walks away with a little more understanding of themselves and their situation… Like, with domestic disputes, let's say a couple is fighting and one of them calls 9-1-1. Within five minutes of walking in the door, a good cop knows 15 years' worth of their problems… Then once you've calmed that down, you go on to the next call, which could be a call for help or shots fired. You never know.

People need to get a grip and stop watching those videos over and over and over again. This is just another part of police work that no cop wants to do.

This obviously doesn't pertain to cop killers, but I think some people would say they'd like to see the police force reformed.
You can reform it all you want, but it'll still be police work. You can stick a pink ribbon on it for breast cancer and make it all PR-friendly, but shooting will always come with the job. My job is to make sure the civilian population stays safe. And if there's a guy over there with a gun or a knife, I'm going to shoot.

Advertisement

But what if he doesn't have anything? No gun, no knife. What if he's just a kid from the projects who gets shot because a cop thinks he looks like a criminal?
How often does that happen, though?

I think we've seen it happen more than once.
OK, well let's look at the total number of police interactions and measure them next to the rare instances when someone doesn't do his or her job right. Sometimes these kids play you, and you have to be a good cop and figure out what's real.

But you think the recent murders of police officers are tied into this surge of anti-cop sentiment?
Absolutely. People don't understand our world, and to a certain extent as civilians, they shouldn't have to. It's a bad, shitty world. We're the guys you call at the last minute, right before shit hits the fan. A lot of people won't ever be exposed to that. They live nice, comfortable lives. Cops see people at the worst point in their lives, and most people don't understand those circumstances. So even if you're 100 percent justified, you shoot someone and you're politically fucked.

So what's the mood at the precinct right now?
Essentially, "Don't do shit." They're saying we should just give the city what it wants. If everyone wants to go back to mayhem, that's fine. We'll just back off. I've been a plainclothes officer in multiple divisions, and you couldn't pay me enough to be one now.

Sure, I think there are things that should be reformed. But they can't teach you how to be human at the academy. You learn that from life experience.

Has there been any top-down effort to reform the department or make it more PR-friendly?
There have been some things. Next month, we start the process of handing out cards at traffic stops. So if I stop someone, I have to give them a little card with my name, shield number, command number and personal email address through the department. So let's say I make a traffic stop; even if I don't give the guy a ticket, I've delayed him for five minutes and he's pissed off. What do you think he's going to do? He's going to email me, call the precinct and do a CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board). You're going to see a huge increase in CCRBs. There are going to be lots of cops just trying to do their jobs and having to deal with all this hassle, not to mention the paperwork and bureaucracy. So it all looks great on paper, but not so great in practice.

There's also been the push for front-cuffing, for instance, and this breast cancer awareness business. It's a great cause, don't get me wrong, but cops should not be driving around in pink fucking police cars. I guess if I were to shoot someone while wearing a pink shirt, it might look better than if I were wearing a blue one. They want everything to look nice for the cameras, and they're going to second-guess everything we do.

Advertisement

People are saying that the guy who shot the cop shouldn't have been out on the street because of his other crimes. What do you think?
He was a bad dude. But when someone goes to the DA's office, sometimes not everything is available to them; maybe the records are sealed for whatever reason. So they look and say, "Oh, this guy is a nonviolent offender." The DAs only see some of the perp's background. We see the whole picture—his rap sheet, arrest record, convictions.

But do you think there should be reforms instituted on cops and their policing?
Sure, I think there are things that should be reformed. But they can't teach you how to be human at the academy. You learn that from life experience. The academy is supposed to teach you how to be a cop: how to take action, when not to take action. When I came up, they partnered rookies with cops who had some life experience and knew what the fuck they were doing. But a whole generation of veteran-to-rookie wisdom and knowledge was lost with [former Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly's Operation Impact, which basically kept rookies away from veteran cops and kept them doing stupid stop-and-frisks for no fucking reason. I have sergeants and lieutenants and a captain who came from Operation Impact and they're fucking useless. They're still numbers-oriented, like Kelly was. They don't know how to handle a simple job. It's like, "No, this isn't dangerous, put away your piece, that's just poor people arguing." Just because some black kids are hanging out on a corner doesn't make them perps.

Advertisement

Real cops can look at those kids and tell the good ones from the bad just by the way they walk and their eyes, things like that. That was lost in translation during Operation Impact, when everything became about the numbers.

Do you think the NYPD needs race-sensitivity training?
Well, let's be real. Where do the majority of our calls and complaints come from? Fifth Avenue? No. They come from the projects. It's not about race; it's about concentration of crime. There are plenty of black guys on the force, and they'll say that being an asshole is colorblind.

No cop ever runs out there excited to shoot someone. That's the fallacy that these BLM [Black Lives Matter] jerkoffs really don't seem to understand. They think we're all just dying to shoot black people.

Are cops scared right now? What are you hearing?
Yes, of course they are. At the end of the day, you still have to pay a mortgage. Some of us have kids and families. They don't want to deal with the hassle and the headache and the PBA [Patrolmen's Benevolent Association] and becoming the next YouTube sensation over a shooting that will bury them for the rest of their lives. No cop ever runs out there excited to shoot someone. That's the fallacy that these BLM [Black Lives Matter] jerkoffs really don't seem to understand. They think we're all just dying to shoot black people.

But the question is, would any of them walk into a gunfight to help someone? Probably not. That's our job. But now some of us are just over it. They don't want to interact with the public anymore. They don't want to do car stops or even calls for help anymore. Is it worth going there and potentially dying for a public that doesn't appreciate the work they do?

I actually do less now than I did before, and I'm not the only one. Why? Because it just seems pointless. You're not going to change the system. Bad guys still get out. I've seen the process through the court system. "Oh, he's a good kid, blah blah blah," and you get a judge who's laid-back and they put him in a program or out on ROR [release on recognizance], and then a cop gets shot, and here we are.

Follow Sulome Anderson on Twitter.