First day on the job, a guy got burned to death on the subway at Broadway-Lafayette. My first day! My second day, there’s a bank robbery. I’m like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” That night I went out drinking with the guys at a cop bar, Barrow’s, down in the West Village. That became my hangout for a while. I loved hanging out.
If you had the morning shift, those guys were more family-oriented. I got into the four-to-twelve shift, which is basically single guys. It’s called the four-by-four: You get off at midnight and drink with the guys until 4 a.m. Somebody always had a bad day, or a great day, so there was always some reason to go out. You had no money, but it was okay—the bartender gave credit. A lot of the time I drove home really drunk.
I was pulled over seven times drunk. I got in an accident in Puerto Rico and told them I was a cop, and nothing happened. I was pulled over in Florida drunk as a skunk, and nothing happened. Jersey, nothing happened. Connecticut, nothing happened. These days you see cops get DUIs, but before, you stopped a cop and you let him go. I just thank God that I never killed anybody.
There was coke going on, too. Not as visible, really off on the side, only a few people involved, but I was one of those guys. Most of the time it was off duty, but a few times, after I had a rough night and caffeine wasn’t doing it, I did it while on duty.
I’ve been sober now since 1999. I got sent to the farm, which is what cops call rehab. For my last six years on the force, I was a sober cop. I had to get used to not hanging out with the guys. That was the worst part. You couldn’t talk to another cop about your feelings. Nobody talks about feelings in the Police Department. Other people, they don’t understand. If you were involved in something serious today, where people got killed, it’s hard to go home right afterward like a job is just a job. It’s not just a job.
Drinking still is the only avenue a lot of people on the force have for tension release. Even the retired guys, they get together at a spot underneath the FDR and just sit and drink. There’s so much pressure on cops now—to hit their arrest numbers. The pressure only leads to more of it. The four-by-fours still go on. I doubt that’s ever going to change.
As told to Robert Kolker