I had been on the job less than the required year to complete probation. And since the Academy, I had been walking foot posts all over Central Park, working steady four to twelves.
Then one day, standing in the sitting room reading the day's assignments, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was being assigned to ride in a radio car. Best of all I would be riding with Officer Hero.
Officer Hero was a 16-year veteran who I was told had been in three gunfights in his career. His many arrests included two bank robbers and numerous other felons, all good arrests.
Hero was a cop who, by reputation, liked to get out there and patrol, looking for trouble with an intuitive feel for a bad situation. Just a few weeks before, he had been working a late tour (midnight to 8 a.m.) when he spotted a cab with a passenger in back who didn't look right. What alerted him was the cabby's roof light indicated he was available for hire but he already had a passenger in the cab.
Cops in New York City know cabbies often do this to get police attention when they're in trouble. So Hero pulled up behind the cabby and put his dome light on. With the cab pulled over, he was about to get out of the radio car when the radio erupted with a transmission of a past signal 10-30 (robbery). The description of the armed perpetrator matched the man seated in the back of the cab, right down to his knitted black hat and dark wool parka. Pulling his gun and walking directly to the passenger door, he opened it and ordered the passenger out. With the prisoner bent over the hood of the cab, Officer Hero reached into the man's pocket and removed a shiny chrome-plated revolver.
That arrest made all the papers in New York, but Officer Hero just took it in stride. As an eager rookie I was delighted to go on patrol with this experienced officer.
I changed into my uniform and made my way downstairs into the sitting room, copying alarms and assignments in my memo book. Sgt. Straight Arrow came out and read roll call. Then he lined us up and marched us out in front of the desk. The desk officer was Lt. Always Nervous. He declined to inspect the men, and we marched out into the street to the radio cars.
"Howya doin'?" I asked Hero as we approached the car we would be riding in together.
"Good. I'm good. But I gotta tell ya something, kid," he said in a conspiratorial whisper.
"What's that?" I asked.
"I'll show ya. Wait," was all Hero said. We arrived at the car and exchanged pleasantries with the crew we were relieving and they walked rapidly away.
Hero motioned me over to the other side of the car where he was standing with the door open. "What?" I asked as I walked over. We were wearing winter jackets, which covered our gun belts.
"If anything happens tonight and we have to do any shooting, you have to do all of it," Hero said in a most relaxed manner.
"Why? What about you?" I asked, puzzled.
In reply, Hero lifted the flap of his winter jacket to reveal a water pistol.
"Where's your gun?" I asked incredulously.
"I hid it in the house at home to make sure it was safe, but for the life of me, I can't remember where," Hero said.
I didn't want to know anything else after that statement and didn't ask another thing. Granted, the water pistol looked real but, unless we were in a water fight with someone, I was hoping he wouldn't pull it.
After that, I wasn't too anxious to go on patrol with the man I renamed in my mind "Officer Not All There."
Years later I met him down at 100 Centre Street, as he was about to enter the old headquarters. He was steamed because the commissioner passed him over for the third time on the list for sergeant. I was tempted to ask him if he had his water pistol with him, but I doubted it was a good time.
Jim McDevitt is retired from the New York Police Department and a columnist for Texas Highway Patrol magazine.