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The Crack in the Shield

At the stationhouse, police officer Peter Heron warned Brian that the routine of mayhem and misery could change a person. Heron was later fired for shooting heroin. Brian went on patrolling the streets of the Seven-Seven. He delivered eight babies. He made nine gun arrests in a single month.

On Lincoln Place, Brian grabbed a dope dealer named Mitch twice for guns and once for drugs. None of the arrests seemed to interrupt Mitch’s business for more than a few days, and the man flashed a big smile each time Brian’s squad car pulled onto the block.

“You put somebody in jail and the next day he’s out waving to you,” Brian later said. “So what did you accomplish?”

Other officers experienced similar frustrations and sometimes administered summary punishment to dope dealers by flushing the drugs down a toilet, tossing the money to neighborhood kids, or otherwise “busting chops.” These cops included police officer Henry “Hank” Winter, a fellow Valley Stream Central High School alumnus who lived across the street from Brian’s uncle and who was known to have once left a pusher naked on Jones Beach in December. He now became something of a precinct legend by burning a dope dealer’s bankroll on a table in the roll-call room.

“Henry Winter has personality,” Brian later said.

At some point, Winter began slipping confiscated cash into his pocket. He kicked in doors and rappelled through windows to rob pushers of their “nut.” He then went back to the stationhouse joking and laughing. Brian had an adjoining locker and sometimes saw Winter count a wad of cash.

“He’d say, ‘Not a bad night,’ ” Brian later said.

In March 1983, another cop was suspended for suspicion of robbing a smoke shop on Dean Street. Brian’s younger brother, Kevin, heard of the incident and called to ask what had happened. Kevin remembers, “Brian said, ‘I don’t know, but sometimes you just work too long in a precinct and things can happen.’ ”

Around this time, police officer William Gallagher asked Brian to be his regular partner on the steady midnight shift. Gallagher was the precinct union delegate. He called himself a “hero cop.”

“He was cement,” Brian later said. “He wanted me because I’m easy, because I’m a follower.”

As they began riding together, Gallagher sometimes did not deign to speak even when Brian asked him a direct question. Brian accepted the insult and seemed to become devoted to his new partner. A friend named Patricia Cuti says, “It made him feel very macho just being in a car with Gallagher.”

Early one morning, Gallagher pulled the squad car over and led Brian into a smoke shop. Brian later remembered, “He said, ‘I want to do this place.’ I didn’t know what he meant.”

Behind the counter, Gallagher found a bin filled with cash. Brian later said that Gallagher grabbed the money and returned to the squad car. There, Gallagher held out $150. Brian hesitated. Gallagher kept his hand out. Brian took the money.

“I felt like I was one of the boys,” Brian later said.

At roll call, Brian began standing off to the side with Gallagher and the other “Raiders” of the late tour. He then joined the nightly prowl for drug locations. Brian proved to have a real talent for spotting lookouts and other signs that meant a dope dealer was operating nearby.

“I would have done great in narcotics,” Brian later said.

When the cops wanted help hitting a spot, they got on the radio and said, “Buddy Bob, meet at 234.” The code phrase summoned all interested officers to gather at St. Johns Recreation Park, near Engine Company 234’s firehouse. They then set out together to make a raid.

Since many of the spots were fortified, one cop took to borrowing sledgehammers, axes, ladders, and ropes from Engine Company 234. Gallagher and Brian began keeping a sledgehammer in the trunk of the squad car. They would splinter the door with a great blow of the hammer and rush screaming into the room. They would see fear and anger in the face of a once smug dope peddler.

“It was glory,” Brian later said. “It was not money. It was you finally getting back at all the slaps you took. It was getting back at the skels, back at people you couldn’t hit.”

One night, Gallagher and Brian went with Winter to a construction site. They then rode through the precinct with a stolen ladder atop the squad car. They stopped in front of an apartment building on Eastern Parkway and propped the ladder on the car’s roof. Gallagher scrambled up and began kicking in the windows of a narcotics spot.


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