Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Show of Force


Consequently, cops hit the streets woefully unprepared for much of what they'll find. How they learn to deal with it depends on a combination of luck and character. "A strong upbringing helps," he says, "and so does getting paired with the right partner, somebody who can teach you how to get through it all without resorting to violence or corruption or crippling cynicism. Those cops who aren't lucky find out how to respond to the difficulties of policing in the back of the station house. And that's 'Fuck 'em.' You take on a bunker mentality and you shut the community and everyone else out."

This attitude can be exacerbated by the personality of the individual precinct, which is shaped by history, myth, and the dominant cops who work there. At the 70th Precinct, there have been a number of cop shootings in recent years that have undoubtedly had an effect on the psyche of the place. Last year, Freddy Narvaez, a 40-year-old lieutenant, was gunned down in Flatbush, the first supervisor killed in many years. Eight years ago, Officer Bobby Machate was killed on Newkirk Avenue; and ten years ago, Detective Louis Miller, one of the most popular cops in Brooklyn, was killed on Ocean Parkway.

Four and a half years ago, at 6:34 in the evening, officers Bobby Noblin and Mary Capotosto were shot in the same bathroom inside the 70th Precinct where Abner Louima was allegedly attacked. Noblin had taken a six-foot-four, 240-pound suspect arrested for heroin and crack possession into the bathroom to let him urinate. With one cuff off, he attacked Noblin, took his gun, and shot him four times. Capotosto, who was outside the bathroom, heard the commotion and rushed in. She was shot once in the head. The suspect then killed himself. Despite being critically wounded, both Noblin and Capotosto survived.

"You can be sure that even the cops who weren't there at the time know all the details of these shootings," one officer told me. "And it's certainly the kind of thing that contributes to the bunker mentality. By the way, I don't mean to sound cynical, but I'd like to know if the mayor's commission is gonna look into the kind of turnout there was in the community for each of these cops. Because there wasn't any. None. The community doesn't care."

"Cops who do their jobs professionally are silenced in station houses everywhere. You'll never hear the positive voices."

Twenty sergeants are gathered in a room for a training exercise. The instructor tells them, "Let's say you get a radio call that a male black in a red shirt has just robbed a store and he's armed. You pull up to the corner and there's a black guy in a red shirt. You get out of the car and throw him against the wall. He says, 'Hey, I didn't do anything—what're you hassling me for?' But you toss [frisk and search] him anyway, because he fits the description. At that moment, a call comes over the radio that they got the guy. You have the wrong person. What do you do?"

One cop says you fill out a stop-and-frisk report, and a few of the others go through the rest of the formal procedures. Only one cop out of the twenty—the only black in the group—says you explain what happened and apologize. The other nineteen say there's no need. You're a cop and you're doing your job.

"Cops need to learn how to explain and apologize—they need to learn that they have to show people respect," says a cop who attended the training session. "There are going to be times when they toss the wrong person or they're in a crowd and they hit the wrong person. They have to learn how far saying you're sorry goes."

It has been argued that the current strategy of assertive policing has set cops free to go out and kick some ass, and that the mayor's tough posture on crime has sent tacit signals to the cops that led to the Abner Louima nightmare. Though it fits nicely into a neat little argument, it is not true that when police are out doing their job, issuing summonses, arresting people, and generally maintaining order, there will necessarily be more brutality and more civilian complaints. (At every roll call in every station house where Bratton spoke, he used to say: "This is not 'get tough' policing, this is 'get smart' policing.") If this were true, then how would one account for the horrific cases of police abuse of the past two decades? Cases that occurred under Ben Ward and Lee Brown, when the department was, by and large, in a comparatively passive mode?

"If the problem is today's assertive policing," says former deputy commissioner Jack Maple, "then how did the Mollen Commission happen beforehand? There's a history of atrocious police behavior even when the department was in a lot of ways not assertive at all."


Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift