And the late tour, which has its own rules and its own style, is like a separate department within the department. One that doesn't, according to a 30-year veteran, always attract the best people. "I remember I walked into a station house really late one night with Jack Maple [former deputy police commissioner and the architect of the department's highly effective crime strategies]. And I looked at the cops," a former member of the department says. "Well, New York cops usually look pretty sharp, for the most part. But these guys, their coats were dirty, their shirts were dirty, their holsters were all worn down, their shoes weren't shined. So I looked at them and I said to Jack, 'Pretty scruffy precinct.' And Jack looked at me and smiled. 'Ahhh,' he said, 'you'll learn very quickly that the cops of the night are very different from the cops of the day. They don't get all dressed up for anybody. At this hour, they're not gonna be meeting the Astors or the Vanderbilts, and if they do, they're gonna be dead already anyway.' "
Cops on the late shift also have more free time to get into trouble. They are not given directed patrol—what territory to cover at what time—and the radio usually goes dead, depending on the precinct, somewhere around 2 A.M. And, of course, for a cop who's even tempted to smack somebody around, it's a lot easier to pull into an alley at three in the morning to work somebody over than it is during the day. It's no accident that practically every major cop scandal of the past ten years has occurred on the late tour—from Harlem's "Dirty 30" in 1994 to the 1995 disgrace at the 48th Precinct in the Bronx, when sixteen cops were indicted for robbing drug dealers, beating people, and abusing the public.
The Louima case underscores the supervision problems on the late tour. On the night of the incident, for example, there were two sergeants in charge, one on the desk and one on patrol, each with less than two years' experience at that post. The lieutenant who normally would have been in charge had taken the night off. (The chain of command in a station house goes like this: commander, who could be a deputy inspector or a captain; executive officer, always a captain; lieutenants; and sergeants.) The 1994 Mollen Commission Report on police violence and corruption found that in every precinct where cops got out of control, there was either too little leadership, leadership that was ineffective, or leadership that was, by virtue of its silence, complicit in whatever mayhem the cops were engaged in.
"People want to say the act was an aberration, but everything about it seems to involve the abuse of authority as well as brutality."
"Nobody ever gets hurt in a precinct where the sergeant's a scumbag," says a former precinct commander who several years ago was brought in to try to reorder a notoriously difficult and problematic station house. "I took charge of a bunch of really nasty cops, really negative, surly guys. And they were not happy with my command. On the first day, I moved my desk from an office on the second floor to a room on the first floor, right next to the desk sergeant. In the 70th, I wouldn't be surprised if the CO's desk is on the second floor.
"It's an image thing, and it's a reality thing. The cops gotta know you're right on top of them. You gotta make them feel uncomfortable, let them know, 'I'm in your face.' If somebody comes through the door, they better not be bleeding, or I'm gonna be out asking questions. The cops have to know that the commander will walk through the station house unannounced and that no areas are sacrosanct, not even the lounge or the dormitory, which are traditionally considered areas that belong to the cops. So on the first day, I found the beer stash on the roof, where they had their parties. I locked the roof and told them it was over," says the former commander, who admits he was ultimately frustrated in his attempts at reform.
A lot of commanders feel the same way about things, he says, but often they are, like he was, unable to get their support supervisors to buy into the program. Among cops, peer approval is the most important thing after safety. "Everybody wants to be liked," he says, "and that's true in any work situation. But with cops, because of their insularity and the degree to which they depend on one another, everybody really wants to be a good guy. It's like, 'Oh, the sarge? He's a good guy. He's a real stand-up guy.' Well, I don't know exactly what a good guy is, but it sounds like somebody who won't report me when I do something wrong."