At night I make a little pile of the things I carry around every day. My wallet and keys. My pager. My shield–we call our badges shields here in Fun City, probably because that’s the shape of the police officer’s badge. Because I am a detective, my shield is different. My FBI buddies tell me that the NYPD detective shield is the most recognized badge in the world. And my gun.
You receive a gun and a shield when you are near graduation at the police academy, on, appropriately, Gun and Shield Day. Eight years ago, I expected the skies to part and the hand of God Himself to present me my police officer’s shield and a .38 revolver. If not God, then surely his closest earthbound relative, the Police Commissioner, would be there to convey to me the two coolest objects any kid could have. Instead, we marched down to the basement where some salty old detective was sitting behind a desk. “Miller?” he said, and tossed me a little envelope containing my shield. “Go through that door and see Police Officer Rodriguez. He will give you your gun.” Several days later I sat with several thousand of my fellow academy graduates and was exhorted by then-Mayor David Dinkins not to become “the burned-out bullies with billy clubs of old.” The crowd, made up mostly of members of the families of my classmates, many of them veteran cops themselves, was a little chilly to Dinkins’ remarks. This seemed the wrong place to insult the legions of police officers that went before us.
After the academy, I was assigned to the Sixth Precinct, which contains Greenwich Village. In addition to walking a beat on Bleecker Street, I got sent to riots in Crown Heights, Washington Heights, and Tompkins Square Park. There was some excitement, but it was bracketed by huge amounts of time waiting for something to happen. I guarded dead bodies awaiting detectives and the medical examiner. I guarded crime scenes waiting for, of course, the Crime Scene Unit. I guarded the voting machines on Election Day and primary day. My fellow cops were not burned-out bullies but a mix of earnest young men and a few women, some concentrating on cleaning up New York and some concentrating on earning enough money to raise a family, every single one of them appalled at the sight of a crime victim and willing to risk his life to catch a bad guy.
After working on patrol for about three years, I requested an undercover assignment to the Narcotics Division. I spent the next two and half years buying heroin, cocaine, and marijuana on the Lower East Side and around 42nd Street. Unlike Patrol, Narcotics has one principal purpose: locking up drug dealers. For this reason, it is much more intense than Patrol. No one feels this stress more than the undercover officers. To be honest, I had it pretty easy. Assigned to Manhattan South Narcotics, I worked neighborhoods that were safer than some in Brooklyn and Northern Manhattan. I am a healthy-looking white guy and therefore to some eyes on some blocks possibly a cop. So I am more suited for buying marijuana or pretending to be a stockbroker looking to turn a $10,000 investment in powder into $80,000 than for less pleasant and more challenging assignments like pretending to be a junkie or a street-level heroin dealer.
A year and a half after my assignment to Narcotics, I was promoted to detective. This time, I was sure that there would be some supernatural fanfare involved in the promotion. I walked into the room, a secret room deep in One Police Plaza since we were undercover, and there was that same ancient detective. “Miller? Here you go.” He tossed me my detective shield.
I am not undercover anymore. I “rolled over,” as we say when cops stop being undercover, as soon as I could. I continue to work in the Narcotics Division, doing a lot of paperwork, trying to pick good cases, and enjoying the NYPD. I remain in love with the City of New York. Of late, there is a growing sense around the office and in the newspapers that she might not love us back, but I don’t believe it.