Captain Midnight

“You wanted to see me?”

Mike Marino, commanding officer of the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights, stops studying the activity records of his cops, rocks back in his swivel chair, and looks up at the veteran officer fidgeting before him. In his drafty first-floor office, Marino wears just a Yankees T-shirt and blue jeans; a silver-barreled, black-handled Smith & Wesson rides his right hip. The 43-year-old commander’s bazooka arms and thickening middle tell of a weightlifter fighting middle age.

“I want to talk about your activity,” Marino says, his voice a velvety purr, a result, he tells people, of speaking in the intimate space of a patrol car.

“What about it?”

“You’re not doing your job.”

The 77th Precinct – “the seven-seven,” within the department – covers the streets along the north side of Eastern Parkway from Flatbush to Ralph Avenue and is notorious as the setting for the corruption scandal described in the late Mike McAlary’s book Buddy Boys. In 1986, the precinct was “dumped”: Almost every single cop was transferred and replaced with new personnel. Then, in 1991, the Crown Heights riots blew the neighborhood apart. In January of this year, a patrolman from the 77 pleaded guilty to a series of crimes in 1997, including armed robbery and conspiring with another 77 officer to murder a precinct detective.

But during the two years Mike Marino has been CO, arrests are up, crime is down, and, for the first time in memory, the Crown Heights community and the police seem to be on the same page. Balancing the conflicting priorities of the 100,000 or so predominantly African-American and Caribbean-American residents and the precinct’s 243 mostly white cops is a delicate proposition. But Marino is not a delicate man. He tells the bald truth to five-star NYPD chiefs and community activists alike, exhorts the cops under his command like a football coach, and rides the streets to make arrests personally. For his courage alone, Marino is wildly popular with many of his troops, who have nicknamed him “Elephant Balls.”

For Mike Marino, being a New York City cop is not a job, it’s a calling, “like being a priest,” he often says. But some of the rank and file, embittered by recent contracts allotting “zeroes to heroes,” don’t see it that way, and they’re lying down on the job. The officer Marino has called on the carpet has been making no arrests, writing few summonses, and disappearing from his foot post. “Let’s talk about you being off your post,” Marino says.

“We are blessed to have Mike Marino. He is fair. You look in his eyes and you know he is like us.”

The cop stonewalls: “I refuse to talk about that right now.”

Marino takes off his gold-framed aviator glasses, squeezes his eyes shut, and tries hard to control himself. “You’re talking to your commanding officer,” he says. “I have the power to take days” – suspend without pay.

The cop shifts his weight and takes a breath. “I thought we could talk about this man to man.”

“If this was man to man,” Marino says, almost inaudibly, “you’d be on your ass right now.”

The first time I saw Mike Marino, in 1991, he was doing three things at once. It was in a Brownsville housing development. I was researching a book about Housing cops, riding with them on the midnight shift. Shots rang out; in the ensuing chase I made a wrong turn in a hallway, got separated from the officers I was with, and came upon Marino, then of the 73rd Precinct. He had caught the shooter and was holding him down with his knee. A battered Tec-9 semiautomatic lay on the floor not far away. With his gun in one hand and his radio in the other, Marino was talking to me while he called on the radio: “73 sergeant on the air. Raise my partner. I’ve got one under arrest, and the only guy with me is a fuckin’ reporter.”

Later on that night, the Housing cops spoke of Marino in hushed tones. He had “that glow” about him, they said. Every time they responded to a shooting, he was already at the scene, they swore. They had seen him stride into the middle of street brawls like a samurai.

Almost ten years later, after Marino had been named commanding officer of the 77th Precinct, I asked for and received permission from the NYPD to watch how he was dealing with the pressures of a command. In his fourteen years on the midnight shift, Marino had been shot at, clubbed with a pool cue, and, for a time, blackballed within the department for the same action-hero image that made him a legend in Brownsville. Could a street fighter recast himself as an effective administrator, a bridge between a brigade of bitter cops and a neighborhood of wary people?

It’s November 9, two days after Election Day, and Captain Mike Marino is still juggling multiple tasks. He sits at his desk fielding phone calls and poring over reports of a series of robberies at the west end of his precinct while he banters with a stream of officers taking advantage of his open-door policy. Unlike that night in Brownsville, though, it’s Marino himself who’s under the gun.

Pockets of middle-class whites have settled in renovated buildings east of Flatbush Avenue, and one robber, a team of thieves, or a series of different stickup men have been following these residents home from the subway and stealing their money and credit cards at gunpoint. In each incident, the robber is well dressed and so smooth that, to witnesses on the street, the crime looks like a conversation between friends.

Marino has responded by posting officers on the side streets off Eastern Parkway. It’s too dangerous to send one of his cops out as a decoy to get mugged at gunpoint, so Marino himself has been wandering the area in plainclothes trying to draw out the robber. But the ruse has little chance of success: Marino would look like a New York cop if he was walking down the Champs-Élysées in a beret. Besides, the gunman almost seems to know where the police are going to be. On Election Day, when many of the 77 officers were watching polling places, the thief struck again. In the past 28 days he’s hit fifteen times.

Marino reaches across his desk and picks up his white plastic-covered “CompStat” binder, a detailed week-to-week report on the comparative crime statistics for every precinct in the city. What he sees makes him reach for an oversize bottle of Tums in the right-hand drawer of his desk, a samurai with heartburn.

“I’m gettin’ killed here,” he moans. “They’re breaking my heart.” He offers Tums to Lt. John Mihnovich, his special-operations lieutenant and a member of his brain trust. The shaggy, blond, 260-pound Mihnovich waves off the antacid.

“I’m losing the precinct,” Marino continues. He means the all-important battle to keep crime levels in the 77 below those of last year. Things were going fine through August. Then slowly throughout September and October the number of “index,” or major, crimes began to swell.

Marino gestures toward a bulletin board with green stickpins marking the locations of index crimes. “I’d commit unnatural acts,” he offers, “for three weeks of five,” meaning five index crimes fewer than the same time last year. Mihnovich roars. But Marino is too tense to enjoy his own joke. He’s been working fourteen-hour days: He hasn’t been to the gym in six weeks, hasn’t spent a full weekend with his wife, Kim, and four children in months. When he is home in Staten Island, one phone call from Mihnovich can send him rocketing into Brooklyn. “Come home, Mike,” Kim implored one night on his cell phone as Marino prowled yet another crime scene in the wee hours. “You’re not the police commissioner.”

“You won’t lose the precinct,” Mihnovich says. “It’s just a spike.”

“It’s not a spike, it’s a trend,” Marino blurts. “I’ve lost homicides for the year. I’m losin’ robberies. I’m gonna lose the precinct by the second week in December.” He flips through the CompStat book and rechecks the soaring crime figures in a trio of Bronx precincts; he knows the figures for precincts that border his by heart. And he’s concerned that if his precinct shows an increase in crime for the year, there’s a solid chance he’ll be relieved of his command.

One would think that a charismatic commanding officer, popular with the community, would be immune to a jump in crime that could well be the result of factors over which he has little control.

But the recent history of the NYPD tells a different story. When Giuliani made Bill Bratton police commissioner in 1994, Bratton and Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple reconceived the NYPD as a hyperaccountable department where competence and energy were valued over tenure and affability. “Giuliani could promise better police productivity because he understood how much slack there was in the system,” says Eli Silverman, a John Jay College professor and author of NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing.

Their strategy was both revolutionary and simple: Precinct commanders would be held personally responsible for controlling crime in their area, the way division heads in a corporation are called to account for quarterly earnings. Computerization had made crime statistics available on a weekly, even a daily, basis, so every uptick in every crime could be measured immediately. To make the system work day to day, Bratton chose as his second in command John Timoney, an NYPD lifer with a Celtic warrior’s face and a photographic memory.

Precinct bosses were confronted with their crime statistics in the biweekly CompStat meeting. Beginning in 1994, Maple and Lou Anemone, chief of patrol and later chief of the department until 1999, would call commanding officers into the eighth-floor Command and Control Center at One Police Plaza at 7 a.m. to grill them about crime prevention and police activity levels. As the COs were questioned, screens behind them were loaded up with graphs and statistics.

A more stressful employee review would be hard to imagine on Wall Street. Anemone and Maple tossed no softballs, tolerated no excuses, and cut no breaks. When they found a befuddled or complacent commander, they tore him apart. One CO was thrashed so badly he broke into tears.

Old-school COs who had gotten their posts through department connections known as “contracts” or “hooks” immediately realized they were in an unforgiving new world. Some tried to doublespeak their way off the hot seat; as one high-ranking cop stood with his feet to the inquisitorial flames, a cartoon of Pinocchio with his nose growing was projected onto the screen behind him. Others tried to cook the books, but the eagle-eyed Anemone was hard to fool. According to a former high-ranking police source, at least one of Marino’s predecessors at the 77 was dumped for underreporting crime.

The process has become less brutal under Commissioner Bernard Kerik, but the bottom line is the same. If you can’t convince First Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Dunne and Chief of Department Joseph Esposito that you did everything possible to prevent the increase in crime in your precinct, they’ll make pointed suggestions, sometimes even offer additional resources. When you’re called back, you’d better have results. If you don’t, you’ll eventually be relieved of your command, exiled to float around the department, or sentenced to become assistant to another CO, seated at his shoulder as a reminder of what could happen to him if CompStat goes badly.

Marino dreads failure, and he’s developed strategies to control crime in his precinct. He pushes officers to enhance arrests by bringing accused felons before the detective squad to get information on other crimes. That’s how the precinct helped solve the 1999 stabbing murder of social-work student Amy Watkins. He cajoles his platoon commanders and sergeants to motivate their men to work harder, and calls “all outs,” when officers long assigned to desk jobs are forced onto patrol from two to four days a month.

Still, his numbers keep rising as Thanksgiving and Christmas loom. “Robbery season,” Marino announces as he walks out of his office to address the four-to-midnight tour.

The 60-foot-wide roll-call room features one desk, a few chairs, and a flimsy lectern. Twenty-four cops stand in four lines facing Marino. “I want to congratulate you on your response time,” Marino begins. “You went from last in the borough to first. Let’s build on that. Don’t ignore something because you think some other cop will take care of it.” Marino pauses to clear his throat. “You know we have a robbery pattern off Eastern Parkway and Washington.”

At the mention of the robbery pattern, some officers drop their eyes. They look as if they’d rather be doing anything but heading out into the streets to find a thief with a gun.

Marino studies the cops before him. NYPD officers are stereotyped as rough and streetwise, but nothing could be further from the truth: A precinct is like a small town with every type imaginable. Some of Marino’s officers are crisp and eager to hit the streets. Others slouch, uncomfortable in their uniforms. There are officers who attended Ivy League schools and read Shakespeare, others who can barely understand simple orders. One of the young cops in the first row has made a series of shaky decisions on the street, but he’s a hard worker who can run like the wind; “dumb as nails and fast as shit” is how one co-worker describes him. Marino is planning to try him out on an anti-crime team that often chases fleeing suspects.

“It’s the holidays. No shopping on duty.” Marino’s soft voice is fading now. “Don’t worry about numbers – take care of shit that’s in your area because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Be a cop. Okay, boys and girls, have a safe tour.”

A few minutes later, Marino is back in his office, meeting about the robbery pattern with a dozen sergeants and lieutenants seated on plastic chairs.

“My wife would complain about something and I’d be thinking, ‘I’ve just seen a guy get his brains blown up.’”

“How you feelin’ today, Captain?” a sergeant asks.

Marino nods to a moonfaced lieutenant with a walrus mustache. “Things could be worse,” he says. “I could look in the mirror and that could be looking back.” For a moment, in the roar of laughter that follows, Marino relaxes.

“Let’s put our heads together,” Marino says. “This isn’t going to be a beat-up.” The white-shirted sergeants and lieutenants nod in unison.

“I can train a monkey to react,” he continues. “What are they doing beforehand? When this asshole hits, everybody is showing up at the location. Train them to go to the outlying areas. Somebody go down in the hole” – the subway. Marino reaches for his bottle of Tums, pops one in his mouth, and shakes the bottle to see how many are left.

“Dunne and Esposito love cops. But they’re smart. They know bullshit when they see it.” He cautions his senior staff about officers who milk overtime after an arrest by delaying the paperwork. “They can’t make their mortgage payment on one collar.”

“Is it okay if I have my guys in the van?” a sergeant asks. “No,” Marino snaps. “I want them on the street on Washington.” Marino points to a street grid and reviews the game plan to catch the robber. “Stagger the meals – this guy knows when we’re out there.”

After the meeting, a stocky sergeant hangs behind to make small talk. “We’re gonna get you more movers,” he says. The more moving violations the precinct issues, the more GLAs – grand-larceny autos – they find. “I tell my guys what to look for – I used to get beaucoup GLAs myself,” the sergeant says, chortling.

“How come you don’t get them anymore?” Marino asks.

“I don’t want to get jammed up.” He’s talking about avoiding official trouble.

“Jammed up?” Marino growls. “How many times have I been jammed up? Haven’t I been to the trial room?”

The truth is Mike Marino has been “jammed up” so many times that despite his passion for the job, lofty I.Q., and high marks on promotion exams, it’s a miracle he ever got a command in the first place.

Marino’s record in the 28th Precinct in Harlem, where he started as a cop in 1979, was sprinkled with enough “force complaints” that it seemed unlikely he’d ever be trusted with a command. None of the charges was substantiated by department investigations, but the image of a heavy-handed officer with a chip on his shoulder was the last thing the NYPD wanted to push front and center. Any administration that allowed him to take command would have to answer to the community if he ran his precinct like a Wild West show.

It was the Crown Heights community itself that demanded Marino’s appointment. As the executive officer to Captain Dowd, the commander who preceded him at the 77, Marino had responded swiftly to community concerns. “He always did what he said he was going to do,” remembers James Caldwell, president of the Precinct Community Council. “We knew he was the perfect person for the command.”

At a January 1999 meeting attended by the Brooklyn borough chief, Community Board Eight, and the Precinct Community Council, Marino sat off to the side. “We want him,” said a Precinct Community Council member. The borough chief thought the board member was referring to Dowd. “I told you you can’t have him, he’s leaving.”

“No, him,” the board member repeated, pointing at Marino. “Zero chance,” the borough commander snapped.

The blackball was even more explicit. “You will never get a command,” Marino says he was told point-blank by a superior in the department. But Marino also had admirers, including Anemone, who had watched him through the years. “With Marino, you don’t get niceties,” Anemone says. “You get the truth.”

Anemone understood that the best cops aren’t always the ones with the cleanest records: Some of them sat in the station house or rode the streets with their windows up. The “non-police,” Anemone calls them. He says Marino was “one of us, fighting crime long before it became fashionable.” Anemone and others approached Patrick Kelleher, then first deputy police commissioner, who was still wary of the reputation Marino had gained in the 28th Precinct. But Marino’s rough stuff was far in the past, his supporters argued; he had changed. Community leaders wrote a letter of support and followed it up with steady phone calls to One Police Plaza. A few weeks later, Commissioner Safir gave in.

But Mike Marino probably hasn’t changed all that much since he worked in the 28th. “When I came on the job in 1979, cops weren’t supposed to make narcotics or misdemeanor arrests,” Marino explains. “Entire streets were taken over by drug dealers. Working people couldn’t come out of their homes at night and a cop couldn’t do anything about it.” At first, Marino walked the streets like any other rookie, wide-eyed and afraid to take action. But the blatant lawlessness he saw sparked a fire in him.

Marino started enforcing laws against loitering, littering, excessive noise. The toughs who had the run of the streets bristled, verbal insults turned physical. At first Marino didn’t fare well. Then he started lifting weights. He bulked up from 152 pounds to 190, had eighteen-inch arms, and could bench-press 350 pounds. If there was an arrest to be made, he did it without calling for backup. If the arrestee wouldn’t go easy, he would go hard.

It was difficult to figure out Mike Marino in those days: What kind of man spoke so courteously to people in the community, yet took so easily to hand-to-hand combat? Raised in Flatbush by a single mother who worked double shifts to support the family, Marino was dubbed “Mr. Logical” by his childhood playmates and could read on a college level in seventh grade. He flew through Regis high school and entered NYU as a premed student but dropped out in the middle of his freshman year, repulsed by his well-heeled classmates. A little over a year later, Marino was in uniform.

As a rookie in the 28th, Marino resisted the worst of police culture and walked out of a room in the precinct house if the N-word was used. But in another way, like other cops before him, he was swallowed up by the job.

“I was just married, and my wife would complain about something and I’d trivialize it. I’d be thinking, ‘I’ve just seen a guy get his brains blown up.’ ” Marino’s wife would look at his swelling biceps and faraway gaze and tell him, You’re not the man I married, mentally or physically.

Marino admits the weight lifting had an effect on his temperament. Once, in a restaurant in Bensonhurst, a loudmouth at an adjoining table asked Marino what he did for a living. Marino just shook his head and kept eating.

“Tell him,” Marino’s wife urged. “He’s just interested, that’s all.”

“He’s gonna make a stupid remark about cops, and I’m gonna knock him out.”

“Tell him.”

Marino told the man he was a cop. The man cursed the NYPD, and Marino laid down his fork, walked over, and knocked him out. His first marriage ended soon after.

In 1984, he passed the sergeants’ test and moved to the 73rd Precinct in Brownsville, choosing the midnight shift to be home with his new wife and children during the day.

Sandy Arroyo, then an eager rookie in the 73rd Precinct, remembers, “It was a gift to have a sergeant like Mike who had the same passion.” Not everyone was as impressed by the sergeant who did steady midnights. There was a cadre of unruly cops on the four-to-midnight shift who refused to follow orders. When that crew rotated onto midnights, the fur would fly. One dispute ended with Marino standing over one of the officers in the parking lot behind the precinct house.

Several of these officers, later dubbed “the Morgue Boys,” eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to distribute drugs. Marino thinks that as a parting shot against him, one of them dropped his name in a deposition. Though Marino was never accused, he saw Internal Affairs investigators lurking in a car outside his home. “It was a very rough time,” he says.

The meeting with his sergeants and lieutenants ends, and Marino heads to the Brooklyn Museum to receive an award from the Washington Avenue Merchants Association. As he walks past the front desk of the precinct’s main room, his radio issues a high-pitched beep.

It’s 6:29 p.m., and the robber has just hit again. A 30-year-old black male, six feet, 200 pounds, wearing a knee-length black leather jacket and a black cap with white letters, used a pistol to rob a man on Vanderbilt Avenue. Marino and Mihnovich had recently arranged for a unit working the six-to-two shift to be at the very location where the stickup took place. But, almost as if he had been sitting in on their strategy meeting, the robber scored just before the officers arrived.

Marino drives toward the robbery location. Two blocks away, a van full of officers on a funeral detail greets him cheerily.

“Afternoon, Captain.”

Marino swallows his anger and reminds the crew in the van to stay alert. He rolls his car window back up. “Some things you can’t teach,” he whispers.

As he heads down Eastern Parkway to the museum, Marino can’t help running over the robber’s M.O. in his mind. The thief takes cash and credit cards, then runs into the nearest subway station, where he uses the cards to charge easily sellable MetroCards. He probably emerges from the subway a stop or two away. “Franklin,” Marino says. He swings onto the service road to the Franklin Avenue subway stop.

As he slows his vehicle and peers into the darkness, a six-foot-tall man in a black leather jacket and a black cap with white letters is walking toward him on the sidewalk. Marino jams the car to a stop and swings out of the driver’s seat, moving fast and low. He pulls out his gun with one hand and his badge with the other. “Police. Put your hands up.”

The man stands stock-still. His hands rise slowly. Keeping the suspect at arm’s length, Marino uses his free hand to guide him against a tree and runs his hand up and down the man’s legs and inside his coat. He can feel the suspect’s heart beating like a bird’s.

Marino calls the borough-wide robbery unit, which has the victim in an unmarked car not far away. “77 CO on the air. I have suspect on that 30. Classon and Eastern.” Moments later, a sedan with two burly detectives in the front seat and the slim victim in the back glides to the curb for a “show-up,” a personal identification. The victim leans forward to talk to one of the detectives, who puts his thumb down. It’s the wrong guy.

Marino apologizes, explains to the man why he was stopped, and takes down some information. “So you can put me in the system for next time,” he protests. “No,” Marino explains. “This is to protect you against unwarranted searches. If you notice, you’re black and I’m white, so we have to make sure that everything is on the up and up.”

A week later, Marino is back at his desk with circles under his eyes. The robber still hasn’t been caught, but the precinct detectives have come up with a suspect, a bull-necked ex-con with a history of armed street robberies. The crime numbers are still teetering, two weeks up and two weeks down in November. And there’s a new problem: An anonymous typewritten letter has been delivered to community leaders and Precinct Community Council members detailing “Racism in the 77.”

The letter accuses Marino of giving white officers preferential treatment and unequal punishments for similar infractions. A black officer received a written “command discipline” for being off post, the letter alleges, while a white officer didn’t. But the worst part for Marino is when he hears the word in the precinct is that the letter is endorsed by half a dozen of the 60 or so black cops under his command.

“Mike Marino leads by example. That’s why his cops named him after a part of the elephant’s private anatomy.”

The phone rings, and Marino reaches slowly for the receiver. It’s his brother, Steven, also a city cop, on the line. “Yeah, it’s me, the racist,” Marino says bitterly. He hangs up and rocks mutely in his swivel chair while Sergeant Charlie Broughton stalks the floor in front of him, cursing the letter.

The refrigerator-shaped Broughton is one of the most active cops in the city. The 77 leads the city in gun arrests, and Broughton’s five-man Anti-Crime unit accounts for many of them. Though Broughton denies it, he says that other cops whisper that he “tosses the world” – searches people indiscriminately – to get his guns. He’s black, and on the street, he’s called a sellout for his zeal. Broughton has learned to ignore the taunts, but he’s incensed that Marino is being called a racist. So is Sergeant Gary Lemite and a number of other black officers, who blame the accusations on cops pushed out of their comfort zones by Marino’s insistence that every officer do some real patrol work.

For at least several weeks, investigators from the NYPD’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity have been questioning cops in the 77. No matter what the tenor of their report, the potential for poisonous publicity alone makes it likely the Mike Marino experiment in Crown Heights will soon be over.

But Marino’s supporters in the community don’t abandon him. “We are blessed to have Mike Marino. He is fair,” insists Trinidadian-born Precinct Community Council member Marlene Saunders. “You look in his eyes and you know he is like us.”

Marino won’t discuss the letter, but I learn that soon after it surfaced, he took steps to stop the precinct from splitting into camps. “Let the investigators do their job,” he reportedly told the rank and file. “If something is wrong, they’ll find it.” But Marino’s poker face doesn’t fool everyone. “He’s dyin’ inside,” Lemite observes.

The next week, when Marino steps up to the podium at CompStat, the chiefs want to know why the precinct didn’t identify the robbery pattern sooner. Even though there were a number of mitigating factors, including the fact that some of the victims wouldn’t or couldn’t describe the gunman, Marino takes full personal responsibility. He then points out that his cops are working closely with neighboring precincts and Transit police to catch the robber, and that arrests and quality-of-life summonses are up. According to those present, his talk is comprehensive and blunt, vintage Marino.

The following Saturday night, Marino gets a call at home to appear in the commissioner’s office at One Police Plaza on Monday morning.

Careers in the NYPD, built carefully over decades, can be lost over failure to react quickly to a pattern, damaged irreparably by a letter like the one circulated at the 77. Marino never held his tongue, never covered his back. Now it looks as though that’s finally caught up with him.

Police Commissioner Kerik gestures for Marino to sit down. “How’s the morale of your men?” he asks.

“As well as can be expected,” Marino answers, “given the circumstances.”

“They’re working hard, Mike. You’re doing a good job.”

“They’re good guys,” Marino responds.

“You think you could do as good a job if I promoted you to deputy inspector?” Kerik says, extending his hand.

Marino’s harrowing days at the 73rd were gone like smoke on the wind: the anonymous accusations that threatened his future, the Internal Affairs investigators camped at his curb, the blackball that denied him a command. Three days later at the promotion ceremony at One Police Plaza, hundreds of assembled cops greet Marino’s name with an explosive ovation, the loudest of the day. A line of high-ranking blue-uniformed well-wishers forms near him. A swarthy chief kisses both of Marino’s cheeks; a red-faced inspector pumps his hand.

Back in his office at the 77, with four weeks to go in the year, Marino has a cushion of 53 index crimes. Thirteen more a week and he’ll stay under his 1999 number. Gradually, throughout the month, the numbers dip until it’s a sure bet Marino and his officers will “save the 77.”

While Marino was traveling from doubt to vindication, Broughton and his Anti-Crime team were scouring Crown Heights for the suspect. They did vertical searches up and down the stairways of apartment buildings where he had been seen, sat for hours on corners where he had been busted in the past for drug sales. They looked for his face on crowded sidewalks and in passing cars until they were dizzy. Then, on December 14, at 8 p.m., they spotted him in a doorway.

After the arrest, Broughton grabs his cell phone to call Marino. “Boss,” he hollers. “We got your guy.”

It’s the evening of February 27, and Mike and Kim Marino are standing close together in the brilliantly lit lobby of One Police Plaza for the Annual Police Foundation Gala. Kim is wearing heels and a black velvet evening gown; Mike is squeezed into a rented tuxedo, the collar of his stiff white shirt pressing in on him. Marino is here to receive the Chuck Barris Foundation Cop of the Year, a Stanley Cup-size trophy given to an officer admired by others as the hardest-core cop in the department. Right behind the Marinos stand Jack Maple, Bill Bratton, and John Timoney, now police commissioner of Philadelphia. Three of the most influential men in law enforcement within spitting distance, three potential contenders to be the next police commissioner of New York, and Marino doesn’t introduce himself. “I don’t know them,” he tells Kim.

Even as he makes small talk with his wife, Marino looks preoccupied. The stickups have stopped, but he stands to lose some of his best men: Lemite has been moved to a “shooting response team,” Mihnovich is thinking about retiring by the end of the year, and Broughton has been making noise about transferring to a specialized unit. And though Marino tells his troops to forget the numbers, he can’t shake the habit himself. He awakens every morning at five and sits in his living room thinking and calling the precinct for updates. Burglaries are up and radio-call response time has been slowing.

Inside the first-floor auditorium, transformed for the night into a ballroom, emcee Dennis Franz introduces Chuck Barris, of Gong Show fame. “Twelve years of midnights in Brownsville and Mike Marino was first through the door on every job,” Barris begins. “His precinct leads the city in gun collars because Mike Marino leads by example. That’s why his cops named him after a part of the elephant’s private anatomy.” As the room explodes in laughter, Marino barely smiles.

On the drive home, Marino picks up a report on his police radio: There’s been a double shooting in the 77. As Kim purses her lips in silent protest, he throws his police light on the dashboard and stomps on the accelerator.

Captain Midnight