The Police Academy was a blast. Met some great guys, had some hilarious instructors (some of whom weren’t even trying to be funny), and spent almost as much time laughing as we did getting screamed at by the staff. It was so refreshing after the Gulag in Albany.
A small group of us skipped every lunch period to work out. After four months of this, I was in great shape. I would have received 100% on the final physical (even maxed out at 17 pull-ups… not easy at about 225 pounds) but for my horrendous performance on the timed run. Painfully slow.
After the Academy you ride around with a real cop for a couple of weeks, a Field Training Officer (FTO). My FTO, Mike Pesale, was a great training officer; professional, by the book, and a real nice guy to boot. He operated Unit 315 in Bayshore. Like many areas of Long Island, Bayshore had mansions by the water, and slums a few miles away.
So one day we’re gassing up at the precinct and we hear a call on the radio from the adjoining fourth precinct regarding an armed robbery. The crooks made the mistake of heading south, toward my precinct, the third. That was a big mistake because “Supercop” himself, Kenny Hamilton, was on duty operating legendary Unit 321 and it was inevitable that he would find them.
Find them he did and now he was in full blown pursuit on the edge of the Third, but nowhere near the Precinct; which is where we were getting our gas and far from Sector 315. Too far to join in, per our Rules and Procedures. I repeatedly begged Mike to head over that way and he finally gave in. By now, Kenny was right on the bad guys’ ass.
I had heard about Kenny Hamilton, but did not know him. He would soon become one of my best friends and my unofficial partner. He and his wife came to be like a big brother and sister to my wife and me.
By the time we got into the chase, there was a second PD unit, 318–Eddie Hendershot and Vic Lewandowski–right behind Kenny.
So now three police cars are tearing it up like the Indy 500, lights blazing, sirens blaring. We could hardly hear the car radio, but I made out someone (it turned out to be Kenny) yelling “shot’s fired.”
I had no idea where we were, but eventually the road started to bend to the left; Mike said he knew the area and whipped a left turn at about 50 miles and hour. “We’ll cut them off.” OK… sounds like a plan.
Mike slammed on the brakes and swerved, manipulating the PD sideways to create a roadblock. We jumped out, guns drawn, took cover behind the PD and got ready to open up on them if they weren’t in the surrendering mood.
315 to Headquarters, please confirm: I just got out of the fucking academy and I might have to kill someone in a few seconds.
Almost immediately, someone radioed that the crooks hit a tree. We jumped back in and got around the corner just in time to witness one madman–Kenny–breaking all the rules and, rather than taking cover, charging the car.
I was thinking, this is not what they’ve been training us to do for months. There was even a corny video we were shown–I can still here the even cornier song–“Take cover… take cover…” We laughed about that in class. I wasn’t laughing now.
Song or no song, I wasn’t about to “take cover” if another cop was going in, so I sprinted up behind Kenny and got there just as he was yanking the gad guys’ passenger side door open. With me close enough behind him to kick him in the ass, Kenny leaned into the car–so all I can see is the bottom half of his body–and more shots are fired, only this time inside the car. Oh, shit.
I was holding my revolver in my right hand and securing it toward the heavens with my left to insure that I didn’t accidentally shoot Kenny in the back. I thought for a moment about unloading it through the rear window, but it was blacked out, so I would be shooting blindly. I was concerned that killing another officer during field training might not be the best start to my career.
I think it was the fact that I heard the shots, saw the puffs of smoke, and smelled the powder–but never saw Kenny’s body jerk or react in any way to suggest he was on the receiving end–that caused me to hold off on the Dirty Harry routine.
Within seconds, more guys ran up, and we got the crooks out of the car. There were three, and to our surprise, one was female. The guy in the back seat had a badly damaged knee cap, courtesy of one of Kenny’s rounds. Once the three were in tow, I turned around and saw quite a scene. It seemed like every police agency on Long Island was now there with us, “parked” every which way; State Troopers, various Town Police, Park Police, maybe Nassau County, unmarked cars. The panoply of police insignia displayed on the chaotic array of cars evidenced the total mayhem in which we had all been involved just a few moments before. It was all over now, but the cavalry was still a reassuring sight.
That night I did a lot of thinking about human nature. These three mutts, two of whom, I think, were on parole, had robbed a jewelry store in Commack. I later heard that they tied up the owner, and he had suffered a heart attack. They would have killed us for a few trinkets. My wife would have been a young widow, our baby would never have known me. It blew my mind for a while; I would never, ever, be unmindful of the unpredictable, profound danger that police officers face each day.
And, while I didn’t realize it yet, I had just made a lifelong friend of Supercop.
A few weeks later, done with field training, alive and still employed, I was looking forward to reporting to my assigned Precinct, the “Fighting Third” on a Monday morning. The previous Friday night we went to my parents’ house in Massapequa for dinner and my father and I watched some boxing.
On the way home, we decided to stop at “Volvoville” to check out the prices on used station wagons. We had a baby now and we felt we needed something safer than my VW Scirocco. It was about 11:00 p.m.; Volvoville was closed, but the night was young on Long Island. I was checking the stickers on a couple of cars while the wife and baby remained in the VW. I heard glass break somewhere down the street. I didn’t think much of it, and we were on our way.
Heading north on Route 110, we soon realized that a big-ass car was right on our tail. I had no idea what this guy’s problem was, but I had an infant in a baby seat in the back, and was not happy. At all.
The car swerved around us, but rather than passing, tried to force us off the road! As in trying to run us into a telephone poll. He repeated this several times. Although I was authorized, I was not packing. If I had been, there is no doubt I would have emptied my off-duty .38 into his car the next time he came up on us.
Now I am flying up Route 110, laying on the horn, trying to get the attention of someone (hopefully a cop–but they’re never around when you need one). I am blowing red lights, doing anything to get away from this guy and hoping someone may call the police. We finally got to a light I couldn’t blow. There was a stream of cars entering 110 from a street on the left. I had to stop. Then he crashed right into the back of my little VW in his greaser-mobile.
I was no longer a cop, or a lawyer. I was 215 solid pounds (thanks to the Academy) of raging new father. I was at his car before dumbass could even swing his giant door open far enough to get out and exchange pleasantries.
I coldcocked him and dove on top of him. Now he was laying across the front seat, on his back, being pummeled. Unbeknownst to me, there had been a girlfriend in the car with him. She jumped out immediately. My wife, who was also out of our car, was now screaming at her, “Are you crazy? We have a baby in the car!”
So asshole, who is getting the living shit beaten out of him and is helpless to do much about it, decides to reach over and put his car in gear. It starts rolling north on 110, with the driver’s door wide open, and me on top of him beating his ass. The car starts veering left, and then goes bump-bump, bump-bump over the median. I look out the window and see headlights–we’re heading into oncoming traffic, maybe 1/4 mile away. I jettison myself from his car and, because a light rain was falling, the asphalt was almost as slippery as a kid’s “slip and slide” toy, and I just surfed across 110 on my back and ran to my wife and child.
By now, some people in a nearby diner had come out to see what the commotion was. My wife was screaming, “call the police, my husband’s a cop”.
I don’t know how this idiot did it, but he obviously managed to avoid a head-on collision, because here he came, back to the scene. He sort of jogged/limped up to me, and seemed to be about to say something when I slammed his face with a picture perfect right. I was later told this blow had broken his jaw. I was again on top of him. Just about then a few marked cars arrived, the cops yelling, “Who’s on the job?” I answered, “I am!” The jerk-off was not-so-gently transported from the pavement to a police car, facing several felonies.
By the way, the genesis of this mayhem was just a couple of typical Long Island tough guys, who had a beef back near the Volvo dealership. It seems one of them had thrown a bottle at this geniuses’ car. Einstein somehow mistakenly deduced it was me.
A funny postscript: I report to the Third Precinct on Monday and a gray haired guy approaches me. He introduces himself as Tom Tohill, the PBA delegate for the precinct. He asks me if I had a problem over the weekend. I answer, “Yeah?” He then tells me that his brother is some big shot lawyer, that he represents the jerk-off who was driving the tank. I don’t say anything. He then says, and I quote, “I saw pictures of the guy–he looks like he got hit by a fuckin’ train.” I’m like, “and?”
Then Tohill smiles, extends his hand, to shake mine, and says, “Welcome to the Third–you’re gonna fit right in.”
It seems that the fact that I was a lawyer had gotten around, and had been grounds for the Third Precinct to fear that I was some kind of IAD plant. This incident had fortuitously absolved me of any further suspicion. If anything, IAD might soon be investigating me for excessive force. And it wouldn’t be the last time.
So here I was, a cop with a badge and a gun. Alone for the first time. Not with my own squad, but on a footpost in Brentwood, a largely Hispanic and black community. I remember calling my father from a pay phone. Remember those? He wished me luck and told me to be careful, and off I went, wandering around a busy shopping center, swinging a nightstick, like an old-time sheriff, keeping the peace.
I was monitoring things on my hand-held radio and heard a call regarding a knife fight in progress, three-on-one, not too far from my location.
Now I don’t think they covered this in either the academy or law school, but I knew I should get there quickly–you know, in case someone was getting stabbed to death. So I commandeered a civilian vehicle. Yeah, I basically car jacked some poor woman who had no idea what was going on. I just jumped in and said, “Drive that way!” and she did.
Coming upon an altercation which was obviously the subject of the call, I jumped out and told her to beat feet. As advertised, there were indeed four guys, squared off three against one. I didn’t see a knife; it was probably ditched once they caught site of me running toward them. They all took off. I managed to catch one of the three “perpetrators.” What heroics! I’d probably get a commendation on my first day soloing.
The O’Henry-esque twist to the story is that the single guy had in fact been menacing the other three with a knife and he was long gone. I had collared my first victim! Put that commendation on hold.
So I spent the next two years assigned to the Third Precinct, Squad 12. Kenny Hamilton’s Squad. Our sergeant was one Carl DeRosa, “CDR”, who was possibly as ballsy as Kenny. I could (and may) write a book about those two years, and the great, half-crazy characters I worked with, but I’d have to fictionalize it to protect the guilty.
Although I was typically assigned the foot post at Suffolk and Wheeler, in Central Islip, Kenny would pick me up in 321 virtually every day, so we were effectively a double car.
Over the next two years I picked up on things that would serve me incredibly well as a prosecutor for the rest of my life. I should have been paying tuition for working alongside the master. At the risk of sounding immodest, my numbers were very impressive for a rookie without his own car, and I racked up five commendations–thanks, in no small part, to Kenny. Whenever I couldn’t avoid the Precinct (one of Kenny’s first rules), a certain desk officer would greet me as “Crime Fighter,” a nod to my enthusiasm for the job. Several senior guys whom I respected told me I had great instincts, and had a future on “the job.” I mean, I was no Kenny Hamilton, but at least I never locked up another victim again.
I got an offer from the DA’s Office to be an Assistant District Attorney. Tough decision. My father and wife twisted my arm to go. There was talk of sending me to Headquarters as a department lawyer anyway, and I only went on the job because I didn’t want to be a lawyer in the first place.
Moreover, as much fun as Squad 12 was, it was becoming “too” much fun at times. Any old cop reading this will know what I mean. So I left the SCPD, with deep regrets, but fond memories and began a long haul as something much better than a lawyer–a prosecutor.
As for the old crew, I still hear from Pete Knudsen, but I’ve lost touch with CDR, Eddie Rempel, Mike Stewart (“Stew Rat”), Paul Kern, Desi DeSilva, and the rest. Sadly, the hilarious hypochondriac Bob “Bullet” Bellittiri” is now gone and we lost Kenny. Supercop was mortal after all. He and I remained close to the very bitter end.
My last words to Ken, at his casket, were borrowed from Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp character in the movie “Tombstone,” as he bids farewell to the dying Doc Holliday. Thanks for always being there, Ken.