PATROL IN THE OLD 4TH PRECINCT
Patrolman John Timothy, 4th Precinct had a fighter's mug. He was one tough looking guy. He had a couple of years on
the job at the time, but he still felt closer to the newer guys than the old-timers. We were working a late tour together when we got a call of a "fight with a knife" on Greenwich Street inside what was
then called "The Washington Street Market". It was 1964 and Manhattan's lower West Side has undergone many changes since then.
The Washington Market was packed with tractor-trailer trucks arriving from Florida, California
and other States with everything from oranges to potatoes. After the tractor-trailers would be unloaded into the various dealerships, the pallets of produce would be stacked to the first floor ceilings. Then, the
local delivery trucks would line up to purchase quantities of foodstuffs for delivery to their customers. The narrow streets of Washington Street, Greenwich Street, from West Houston
Street south to Fulton Street were choked with trucks. Once a sector car responded to a job in the Market, the cops had all they could do to get their car back out again.
John and I were forced to park the radio car on Franklin Street just off Hudson and run to the scene of the knifefight. We could hear the roar of the crowd of onlookers
who had formed a circle around the two men locked in a death struggle. We ploughed into the crowd and shouldered our way into the interior of the circle. John charged the
bigger of the two fighters and hit him with a shoulder block knocking him back. The shocked fighter dropped the knife, which looked like a linoleum knife with a hooked
blade. The other guy immediately indicated his submission by dropping his knife and raising his empty hands as I shoved him back against the ring of shouting men.
Some of the crowd of workers were disappointed that we had ended the fight, but many others were relieved that we had prevented what could have been a homicide.
The Washington Street Market was a busy area during the late tour. The "ABC laws" governed the hours when bars and grills could be open for business. The
hours were different for the ginmills in the Market area. They could remain open beyond the 4AM closing times of other sections of the City. This was done to
accommodate the hundreds of truckers and employees of the produce markets who worked throughout the night while the rest of the City slept. The all-night Market
enabled the thousands of restaurants and produce stores throughout the City to have their foodstuffs delivered each morning. Years later, the Washington Street Market
was relocated to the Bronx in the Hunt's Point section. Back in the l960s, the old Washington Street Market attracted hundreds of unemployed workers looking for a
night's work. It also was a good place for a guy on the lam to keep a low profile while working odd jobs. Many times, a routine arrest for disorderly conduct would became
a homicide or robbery arrest when the fingerprints came back showing the prisoner was wanted. Stopping to question a so-called "derelict" could be a dangerous move for a cop on patrol in this area.
The cops that worked in the old 4th Precinct went unrecognized for their efforts. It was considered a "slow" precinct and most new cops didn't want to be assigned to a
quiet precinct. Yet, there were many experienced cops working in that command. The NYPD would often punish an experienced detective or former plainclothes officer
by demotion and transfer back to patrol. Such officers were bitter to a certain extent, but patrol in Manhattan's 4th Precinct wasn't the worst way to finish up a career. It
was still in the "Big Apple" and the excitement of working in Manhattan still had its compensations. It would be many years later before people would give names such
as "Soho" and "Tribeca" to the old 4th Precinct. Today, "Soho" is filled with art galleries and restaurants. In l963, the streets were deserted after the fabric jobbers
and wholesalers closed for business. It was also a section of Manhattan that had witnessed some horrific incidents in the past.
The area north of Canal Street was filled with old loft buildings. The cast iron fašade buildings of the 19th century were plentiful here. Some were used by textile jobbers
who sold all types of fabric for the manufacture of clothing or household goods. When we would handle police incidents in those buildings, it wasn't unusual to see
the lofts filled to the ceilings with gigantic bolts of fabric. Most of those buildings with the cast iron facades were only six stories.
On March 25, l9ll, there was a deadly fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a few blocks north of West Houston Street in the 6th Precinct. The factory building had 12
stories. The exit doors were locked and there were inadequate fire escapes for the hundreds of young women toiling at their work. A fire broke out on the 8th floor and
trapped many of the women inside. Many jumped from the upper floors to their deaths. A total of 146 women lost their lives in that tragedy. They called those
factories "sweatshops". The women who died in that fire were mostly young Jewish immigrant women. There were many such shops still in operation in the area, and it
seemed the lessons of the past had gone unheeded.
On a hot summer day, I responded to a report of a "cardiac" in a sweatshop located
on Broadway near Spring Street. My radio partner was Patrolman Ralph Vega who was fluent in Spanish. We climbed the stairway to the second floor where a burly
security guard unlocked the gate and admitted us to the work area. A man needing a shave and dressed in a white shirt seemed to be the supervisor. He urged the
women to continue their work despite the presence of the police. The air was filled with the noise of scores of sewing machines. The heat was oppressive as the
women toiled at their workstations. Their black shoulder length hair was matted with sweat and their dresses clung to their bodies. Most of them were young Puerto Rican
women. There were piles of fabric everywhere. The electric cords for the sewing machines and the overhead lighting were strung haphazardly. A small cluster of the
workers stood near an older woman lying on the floor. After checking the condition of the woman, we could see that she was a victim of heat exhaustion. We applied cool
compresses to her forehead and she was recovering quickly as we waited for the ambulance. As we waited in the smothering heat, some of the women at the sewing
machines were shouting remarks in Spanish. Officer Vega was smiling from ear to ear. Then he burst into laughter and spoke to some of them in Spanish. They
blushed visibly and their eyes dropped in embarrassment. Vega later told me that they were talking about me and how they liked my butt. We helped carry the woman
out to the ambulance and the security guard slammed the gate behind us as we started down the stairway. The sweatshop supervisor shouted commands in Spanish
and the whirring of the sewing machines increased in intensity. The hot interior of the radio car didn't seem so uncomfortable anymore. I thought of the workers inside the
sweatshop and the miserable conditions that they worked under. The locked gate and the number of women in that factory was formula for disaster.
Patrolman Tom Dolan was a veteran of the old 4th Precinct. Tom had been assigned for a number of years to plainclothes duty. When I was a rookie, I filled in for his
regular partner who had taken the tour off. Tom looked me over and just shrugged his shoulders as we pulled away from the curb to patrol the north end of the precinct.
Tom was a big guy and I didn't think my 150 pounds impressed him. We didn't talk much during those first few hours on patrol.
When the radio dispatcher called for us to respond to a burglary run, I learned a lesson in police work. We were patrolling on West Houston Street and he told me to
turn onto Mercer Street and shut off the headlights. I pulled the radio car onto the sidewalk and kept as close to the buildings as I could. We sat in the darkened car
and watched in the direction of Prince Street. The streetlights reflected off the old paving blocks worn smooth by decades of traffic. The facades of the old buildings
stood in silence with their tiers of rusted fire escapes. Seconds later, a furtive figure hustled across Mercer Street on Prince headed east. He was carrying a load of
clothing over his shoulder. Tom's face lit up with a knowing smile as I turned on the headlights and pulled the car alongside as he walked. Tom greeted him cheerfully
and inquired about the "swag". The suspect was obviously a derelict and the "swag" was expensive clothing and various personal belongings. We tossed him for
weapons and after a few evasive answers, Tom handcuffed the suspect to a wrought iron lamppost. Today, there are still some of those old iron lampposts around.
They have a distinctive look. We threw the clothing into the sector car and proceeded to the
address of the radio run. The caller was an artist in residence or "AIR". In those days, artists had discovered the buildings below West Houston Street were ideal for their studios. Eventually, over
the years, many other artists would follow these pioneers and the area would become known as "Soho" (south of Houston Street). When we talked to him, he was very annoyed with the lack
of police protection. He had returned home to find an unidentified male ransacking his studio. The suspect fled to the roof with his belongings. His description matched that of the suspect we had
cuffed to the lamppost. When we returned the suspect to the scene, the artist was overjoyed to find we had arrested the burglar and recovered his property. I must admit that Tom's
methods were unorthodox, but very effective.
As a rookie cop, I walked foot posts in the 4th Precinct and "flew" to division and
borough details throughout the Borough of Manhattan. There were only four sector cars that worked the precinct in those early years, so most of the platoon walked foot
or flew to outside commands. There was no overtime paid back in 1963, and portal-to-portal pay was in the future. Often, when I would prepare my monthly
activity report, I would find that I had worked only a few tours in the 4th Precinct. The rest of the time, I had worked details outside my Command. "Flying" was an
expensive proposition. However, after a few years of it, a street cop got pretty good at improvisation. Truck drivers and most motorists would be only too glad to give a
ride uptown or cross-town to a uniformed cop. When assigned to a demonstration up in Times Square or a parade detail on Fifth Avenue, it was a breeze to thumb a ride downtown on Seventh Avenue.
The veteran cops of the old 4th Precinct knew that a rookie cop had to learn the job quickly. The desk officers and patrol sergeants took matters into their own hands.
They would instruct the sector cars to have the new cops issue their first summons. They knew that the actual issuance of a ticket to an angry motorist would be a new
experience for rookies. Next, they would get the new cop his first collar. In my case, I was walking foot post on Greenwich Street near Park Place when a sector
car picked me up and brought me to the scene of a burglary nearby. The owner of a food distributing company had caught a young burglar in the act as he was stealing
produce from the building. I interviewed the owner and the suspect. The sector car transported me and the prisoner into the precinct with my first felony arrest. After I
processed the collar in the precinct, Lieutenant Fulton told me to cuff up my prisoner and walk him the few blocks to the courthouse at 100 Centre Street. Today, such a
practice would be frowned upon. He assigned an experienced cop to help me with the arraignment procedures. Processing that first felony collar was good on the job
training. It showed a new cop how to handle an arrest and eventually gain experience testifying in court.
The arrest procedure at that time involved taking the prisoner to the detective squad
office for process. While the arresting officer prepared arrest cards, the detective on duty would debrief the prisoner and prepare a DD 19 Pedigree and M.O. form. The
DD19 was a full description of the prisoner and manner in which the crime had been committed. That was before the landmark Miranda Decision, and the detective would
interrogate the prisoner. Many times, the prisoner would make incriminating statements and the detective could clear other cases as a result of the interrogation.
It was amazing to watch a veteran detective conduct a skilled interrogation of a prisoner. The "Mutt and Jeff" routine was classic. The good guy-bad guy method
often got quick admissions by prisoners. Miranda ended all those time-honored methods. There was one thing about the DD 19 that I found personally offensive.
There was a category entitled: "unusual peculiarities". Physical imperfections such as a scars, tattoos, physical deformities, and left-handedness were listed. As a
southpaw, I resented that. The detectives also fingerprinted and photographed the prisoner. Arrests made on the evening and late tours required that part of the arrest
procedure was to transport felony arrests and serious misdemeanors as listed in section 552 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the Line-up Room at 240 Centre Street.
At 7 AM, lines of patrolwagons from various precincts would pull into Centre Market Place behind
headquarters and strings of prisoners would be led from the wagons into the basement entrance. Prints would be dropped off at the old Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) at 400 Broome Street. When the
"yellow sheets" would come back with the prisoner's criminal record, they would take a "stand-up" photo. Finally, the prisoner would stand in a line-up on a
stage while a detective would read the details of the arrest aloud. The lineups were monitored by all the detective squads via closed-circuit television. This
was before the Supreme Court had rendered the famous "Wade Decision" that set guidelines for line-ups. The old Line-up Room is an anachronism of
the past, but it was an experience to see those detectives work a room full of suspects.
Patrolman Charlie Schmidt, 4th Precinct, worked the Warren Street post in the
Market. Warren Street between West Broadway and Greenwich Street was the site of a number of unemployment agencies. The post was only one block long, but it was
more than most cops could handle. These agencies were filled with unemployed workers seeking day jobs. Most of the listings were for menial type work such as
dishwashers or porters. Men were hired for part-time or on a daily basis. Here too, criminals wanted on warrants, fugitives from justice, or just plain drifters, could
support themselves with work and not be asked too many questions.
On any day, there would be disputes between disgruntled men in the large crowded
rooms of the agencies. The interior of those rooms was not air-conditioned and the stench of the sweating bodies of hundreds of aggravated jobseekers filled the fetid air
and smothered the lungs. When a job would come over the radio of a fight on Warren Street, you could bet it would be inside one of the agencies. On a hot summer day,
your dark blue uniform shirt would be saturated with sweat from sitting in those sweltering radio cars. I would always be glad when I would find "Mr. Charlie" on the scene of those fights.
Charlie was the guy who could handle this post as no other cop could. Charlie was a man with eyes that penetrated into your skull. He was an infantryman in Europe
during World War II. He had seen a lot of action. The Warren Street post was a piece of cake to him. He was a cop that the downtrodden men who frequented
Warren Street could trust. They knew he could keep a confidence. Many times, Charlie would take one of the denizens of the street into his "confessional box". The
arrests that he made based on information provided by the least of them would amaze the cops of today. He had better sources of information than the detective
squad. When he went sick or took vacation, I would sometimes be assigned to the Warren Street Post. Believe me when I tell you, it was a long tour of duty for me.
Patrolman Bernard Miller was the "old hand" of the 4th Precinct. He was a mature and seasoned cop. There was a reason why he was so steady in the street. He had
spent his young years fighting World War II. He saw years of combat in Europe assigned to an Armored Reconnaissance Unit of the 102nd Cavalry. His unit and
others like it spearheaded the advance of the American Army. He spent most of his time manning a .37 MM cannon and a .50 Caliber machine gun in some of the
toughest campaigns of the war. When he was discharged, he and 100.000 other veterans took the test for Patrolman, PD. He was appointed in 1946, and spent his
entire career in the old 4th Precinct. Back in l965, Bernie and I were assigned the same detail for the visit of Pope Paul VI. We were assembled in ranks with the
detail of hundreds of cops. The detail sergeants took roll call and we were assigned. Our sergeant was an old-timer who peered over his glasses and sized up his detail.
"Who got a whistle?" he drawled. Not a cop stirred although the regulation white whistle dangling from every gunbelt. After a pregnant pause, I responded that I had
one. The entire detail broke into laughter. I had been had. "OK, kid, your post is the roof of this here building" said the sergeant. I spent the tour on the windy roof of an
office building. I didn't get to see the Pope, but I learned how to keep my mouth shut in formation.
©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss
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