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The Crack in the Shield

I thought if you hooked up with them, I would be a big shot.

At first, they had just taken cash. They had later begun selling narcotics and firearms. They had twice hit a location and then sold drugs to the customers who continued to arrive. Whatever pangs of guilt they had felt had apparently been numbed by a few hours of racing from shooting to robbery to rape to beating.

No right. No wrong.

In 1984, Brian had apparently begun to find his double life as a cop and criminal unbearable. He had begun to sink deeper and deeper into depression. He had eventually resolved to get out of the Police Department, and he had conspired to get a disability pension by having a fellow officer shoot him in the hand.

I want to be normal. I want a life, I want a child.

Finally, this same fellow officer and another cop had been caught shaking down a drug dealer. The two had agreed to cooperate with the special prosecutor, and Brian had been among those they had ensnared. The Brian Francis O’Regan who was known to his friends and family as good and kind and honest had been indicted on 82 counts in the biggest police scandal since the Knapp Commission investigation of the early seventies.

I am guilty, but not guilty as you understand. I need help.

At 5:40 A.M. on Friday, Brian woke in the motel. He went out twice for coffee and newspapers. He opened a second small notebook and wrote that he sided with police commissioner Ben Ward in a confrontation with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association over the department’s new plan to fight corruption by transferring each cop every five years. He also wrote that his stomach was queasy and that he had just inspected himself in the mirror.

I look bad.

At 9:20 A.M., Brian was still writing. He wrote that he had turned on the television and that the only clear channel was showing Donahue. He wrote that he loved his girlfriend, Cathy, and that he was afraid a SWAT team was going to burst through the door at any moment and that he did not own the proper clothes to wear to court. He noted that the motel’s noon checkout time was nearing.

Only have about $4. What a choice. Death or jail. Got no place to go. Do you think God wants me? Does it hurt to die?

Then Brian set down his pen. He left the two notebooks on the dresser and set his birth certificate and PBA membership card on the nightstand. He stretched out on the bed in a pair of denims and a light-blue sweatshirt bearing the legend 77TH PRECINCT—THE ALAMO—UNDER SIEGE.

With his right hand, Brian raised a .25 Titan automatic pistol he had most likely acquired while raiding a narcotics spot. He pressed the chrome muzzle to his right temple. He fired.

“The precinct is hell,” Brian had said some 30 hours before. “I know when I die I’m going to heaven.”

Brian O’Regan came to the New York Police Department from Valley Stream Central High School and the Marine Corps. His mother was the daughter of a Flushing truck farmer. His father was an oil-burner mechanic locally renowned for having built a Ford with two front ends and for riding a motorcycle down Merrick Road while standing on the seat. The father also had a practical streak that led him to approve of 28-year-old Brian’s career choice.

“My father used to say, ‘One thing about the Police Department, they never lay anybody off,’” the oldest son, Greg, remembers.

For his part, Brian seemed to come out of the academy with a dreamy vision of heroic comrades and daring deeds. He was assigned by chance to the 77th Precinct, and he arrived at the Utica Avenue stationhouse on October 29, 1973, raring to do battle with crime. He had only to be told what to do.

“Pride and glory,” Brian later said. “That’s what I liked.”

With a rookie’s blind enthusiasm, Brian was always ready to race to do a job or scramble up a fire escape or leap to an adjoining roof. He often returned to the suburbs with cuts and scrapes. His father suggested calling a family friend who was an inspector and arranging for a transfer to a less busy precinct.

“Brian said, ‘No, I’m new, I need some time there,’ ” Greg remembers.

On July 30, 1975, the fiscal crisis caused the city to lay off 2,864 cops. Brian was forced to turn in his gun and shield and search for another job. He heard that the Broward County sheriff was hiring, and he went down to Fort Lauderdale to sign on as a deputy.


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