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The Crack in the Shield

When his nieces visited Brian in Florida, they found him driving a police cruiser that gleamed right down to the steam-cleaned engine. He wore a fitted white shirt and a shiny brass badge and a Smokey the Bear hat. He had begun collecting thank-you letters from citizens he had assisted, and supervisors spoke of promoting him to detective.

“He always had a smile on his face,” says his niece Kathleen. “He’d say, ‘How do I look? How do I look in my uniform?’ ”

In 1980, Brian’s father died of a heart attack. Brian flew north and attended the wake at the Moore Funeral Home in Valley Stream. The New York Police Department was hiring again, and he announced that he was moving home. The family urged him to stay in Broward County.

“I said, ‘You should go back to Florida where you’re happy,’ ” remembers his sister-in-law, Carole. “He said, ‘No, I have to take care of my mother.’ ”

On January 13, 1981, Brian returned to the 77th Precinct stationhouse, on Utica Avenue. He climbed into a grimy squad car with coffee stains on the seats, and he drove onto the Atlantic Avenue viaduct. As far as he could see were abandoned buildings and housing projects.

“I said to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ ” Brian later remembered.

As he began patrolling these battered streets, Brian learned that black Brooklyn was the department’s dumping ground and that his fellow officers included a large number of drunks, shirkers, boss fighters, rule benders, rebels, and crooks who were not quite crooked enough to fire. An officer would misbehave in some choice command and Brian would see another new face in the Seven-¬Seven.

“You would ask the guys, ‘What did you do wrong to get here?’ ” Brian later said. “They might not tell you, but you knew something.”

Among the brass, the Seven-Seven had acquired a reputation as an “unmanageable precinct.” Brian sensed that most of the supervisors there cared little about the neighborhood and not much more about what the officers did. Many seemed to him concerned only that a cop issue summonses and keep his overtime down. Many seemed to have one overriding desire.

“You look at them and you know it’s ‘I got to get out of here,’ ” Brian later said. “You basically could do what you felt like doing.”

On one of his first radio runs, Brian pulled up to a dress shop on Nostrand Avenue that had been burglarized. The plate-glass front window had been smashed, and Brian followed several other officers inside. He watched one of the cops punch open the cash register and grab a stack of bills.

“I could not believe what I saw,” Brian later remembered. “He said, ‘What do you want?’ and I said, ‘I don’t do that. I do not do that. I don’t want anything.’ ”

During another tour, Brian responded with lights and siren to a radio report of three men with guns. Other cars screamed up to the scene, and several cops crashed through the Plexiglas front of a smoke shop in apparent pursuit of the perpetrators.

“Somebody said, ‘Did you drop a dime?’” Brian later remembered. “I didn’t understand. I just looked at him.”

Afterward, Brian learned that cops sometimes telephoned a bogus crime report into 911 and used the resulting radio run as a cover for pillaging a smoke shop or a numbers spot. He already knew that even honest cops usually maintained a wall of silence between themselves and an anti-corruption apparatus that included the precinct Integrity Officer, the Internal Affairs Division, the Field Internal Affairs Unit, the district attorney, and the special prosecutor.

“The Blue Wall,” Brian later said.

One day, police officer Francis Shepperd went into a numbers spot in uniform and staged an armed robbery. The crime was so brazen that another cop contacted IAD out of fear that the department was staging some sort of integrity test. Shepperd was dismissed and the other cop was ostracized. His locker was turned upside down and branded with the word “rat.”

Brian kept his silence and raced to as many as twenty jobs in an eight-hour tour. The precinct’s homicides in 1981 included the July 4 shooting of two men and a woman on St. Johns Place. A crowd of citizens ignored the bodies and gathered around a new Mustang that had a bullet hole in the right front fender.

“Poor car,” a man was heard to say.

On an evening tour, Brian shone his flashlight from an upper-floor tenement window and saw a tiny dark form down below he could not immediately recognize. He then realized that the woman in the apartment had thrown her newborn child down the air shaft. Brian later said, “I stood there and stared at it and I kept thinking, It’s so little, it’s so little.”


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  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Dec 8, 1986 issue of New York
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