Purchase the Book here!
Purchase the Book here!
is a story of my ten years assigned to the NYPD Emergency
Service Unit. Some stories are humorous, some are heartbreaking. But all are my life and experiences as a proud
member of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit.
The Williamsburg Siege
My first encounter with the NYPD Emergency Service Unit
January 19th, 1973 I was working a 4 P.M. to
Midnight tour, 4 by 12 in police jargon. I was assigned
to a radio patrol car in the 81st. Precinct, a very busy
house in the Bedford-Stuyversant section of Brooklyn,
The Station House was an old one, even by New
York standards. It was well over 100 years old. It was
rumored that during the Civil War it served as a
military hospital, so it had seen it's share of
bloodshed and tears and if the walls could talk there
would be some stories to be told. But none would be as
dramatic, or heartbreaking as the tale that would unfold
The 81 was known as "The Hole in the Donut"
in the vast patrol area know as Brooklyn North. Bordered
on the North by Brownsville with Bushwick to the East
and dangerous Bedford-Stuyversant to the West.
Williamsburg with it's mix of Orthodox Jews, Hispanics
and Blacks who had lived there from the end of World War
II was at the South end of the precinct.
My partner that night was Bill Jackson, we
were assigned to Sector Adam. The sector that bordered
the 83rd, 79th, and the 90th. Precincts.
These were the years when domestic
terrorist groups were beginning to make themselves known
to the American public. I'm not talking about the
college based groups such as the Weathermen or Student
for a Democratic Society. What the urban police forces
in America were beginning to deal with in these years
were the FALN, the Puerto Rican separatists and the
Black Panthers and their off shoot Black Liberation
Army. Recently BLA members had attacked a police station
in New Orleans, and Oakland, California. In the NYPD we
lost several officers in cowardly ambushes. One was a
good friend and classmate in the Police Academy Gregory
Foster. He and his partner Rocco Laurie, were on foot
patrol in the 9th. Precinct on the lower eastside of
Manhattan. There they were fatally ambushed, gunned down
by automatic weapons. They were simply walking their
beat. The BLA sent out a communiqué saying that they
were enemies of the people. This could not be further
from the truth. Both were devoted to the community. I
recall Laurie helped several kids get into drug rehab
programs and Greg Foster spending his off duty time
playing basket ball with the local kids. It was ironic
that both Greg and Rocco were former combat Marines who
had served in Viet-Nam prior to joining the NYPD. Only
to return home and be savagely ambushed by the cowards
of the BLA. During the 1970's several officers were
killed in NYC and other America cities. Targets of the
BLA and their cowardly ambushes. Several months later
two members of the BLA would be killed in a shoot out
with detectives from the Major Case Squad. Avon White
and Woody Green were in the Big "T" Steak House at the
corner of Saratoga Avenue and Broadway in the 81
Precinct. When confronted by the detectives they started
to shoot, when the smoke cleared NYPD=2, BLA =0. Chalk
up one for the good guys. All these so call
"revolutionary" groups financed their war chests by
doing armed robbery's.
The media was having a difficult time
connecting all these cases and I do not believe the
citizens, up to this point, really had an understanding
of the mood on the streets, especially in the mean
streets of the inner city neighborhoods. While no street
smart cop took patrol duty for granted, there were in
those days an especially tense feeling as we slowly
cruised down a street full of abandon and burn out
automobiles. These shells of cars lay abandon in front
of once proud apartment buildings where many of the
city's leaders as well as prominent people in any field,
sports, entertainment, politics had grown up in the
1940's, 50's, and even into the early 60's. But by the
late 60's in New York City, such neighborhoods were war
zones where drugs were the currency and hate was the
But I was a young cop, a combat vet, full
of piss and vinegar and not afraid of anyone or
anything. I yearned for the "hot" calls over the radio.
I wanted action. I wanted to work to make things better
for the kids I saw playing in the garbage strewn
streets, running errands for drug dealers and
staring blank-eyed into space when we came to their
roach infested apartments to investigate the drug over
dose of their mothers whose bone thin bodies would be
sprawled on a filthy urine stained mattress in the next
room. I had come from a similar neighborhood, it wasn't
called a ghetto then, but the slums. A place where
working class people tried to raise their family as best
they could. Where growing up on the streets produced
harden souls. Very few of us made it out. I was one of
the luck ones. There was a saying in Hell's Kitchen. You
had four ways out, become a Cop, Firefighter, or Priest.
Number four was a gangster. I'll tell you, the west side
of Manhattan produced the best in all of the four
groups. I'll never regretted my decision.
This was a typical January night , cold
and wet. As we settled into our tired green and white
Plymouth our ears tuned to the static-scratchy voice of
the 14th Division dispatcher. In these Divisions,
covering the kind of precincts we worked, the dispatcher
was a constant companion, for eight hours, night after
night she assigned patrol cars to cover jobs generated
by 911 calls. Everything from a kid with their head
caught in a fence to shots fired, robbery in progress or
Report of an Officer Down Signal 10-13 the most dreaded
radio call for any cop. This night was no different:
Shots fired in the 83, Man with a gun in the 90, Female
stabbed in the 94, on and on it would go all night long
as it did every tour in Brooklyn North. Violence and
despair ruled these mean streets.
We had handled several calls prior to our
assigned meal hour at 1700 hours (5 PM). The most
exciting involved a dispute between an elderly women and
her junkie grandson. She said he was stealing money from
her purse to buy drugs. He took offence and punched her
in the mouth. He had fled prior to our arrival. All we
could do was refer her to court and take the report. If
he were still there I'm sure we could have dispatched
some "street justice" on the wayward grandson. As we
left the apartment I was sure we would be back someday
after he had killed her for a taste of dope. Those kind
of runs ate up time and seemed to take forever . I hated
standing in the crowded apartments, dodging the roaches
as they fell off the ceiling, trying to right a wrong
with advise that most likely wouldn't help the poor
soul. But it was all we could do. We always tried our
best. I looked at the victims as if it were my family. I
did what I expected to be done for my family. A little
reassurance, concern and caring go a long way.
There were no decent places to eat in the 14th.
Division, so we would sneak over to Queens to pick up
something to eat. We would go back to the 81 Station
House to eat. A radio car idle in one spot for too long
would be a target for a brick from a roof, or maybe a
After our meal we had hardly started the engine
of the RMP when we were dispatched to a 10-30 in a
liquor store, a robbery in progress. The assignment
wasn't in our sector, but due to a back log we were IT.
The store was just off Broadway, no not the Great White
way in Manhattan. This Broadway was a true street of
Broken Dreams. It was littered with garbage, dead rats,
broken beer bottles, and hypo needles dropped by the
heroin addicts. Traffic was heavy. We hit the lights and
siren, then as per procedure we shut it all down a few
blocks away. No need to advertise our arrival to the bad
For some reason, I remembered thinking at
that time of my first month in the 81 about two years
earlier, when my partner and I turned the corner into a
We were on our way to a 10-52 Domestic. Our
first job of the 4 by 12 shift. We turned off Broadway
at Chauncey Street when a man shot another man in the
head right in front of us. The victim literally fell
onto the hood of our patrol car. The street was full of
people and dozens of children, all running in every
direction. We jumped out of our car and took cover
behind the doors with service revolvers drawn. Shouting
to the man with the gun to freeze and drop the gun. We
were in a Mexican Stand Off. But the rules were unfair,
we couldn't fire because of the possibility of hitting a
civilian. It lasted about a minute, but it felt like an
hour. He attempted to fire but his automatic pistol
jammed. We were on him like "Stink on Shit". We took him
down hard to the street all to the cheers of the crowd.
We later learned that the killing involved a decade old
dispute between two cousins. One ended up dead, the
other doing hard time upstate. That was a routine call
that ended up in terror filled moments. We didn't know
it at the time, but we were headed for the same thing
As we approached the location we saw old
Sal waving his arms. He had the usual cigar clenched
tightly between his teeth. Sal was a tough old Jewish
man from Brownsville. It was rumored that he had been
associated with Murder Inc. the prohibition era mob run
by Meyer Lanskie. Brownsville was where the young Jewish
mobsters cut their teeth.
Never the less Old Sal was a super guy
and always happy to see the cops. Actually many a rookie
in the 81 was placed in the back room of old Sal's by
the patrol Sergeant. This was during their probationary
period, and wanting to keep the rookie out of trouble.
Also to keep the patrol Sergeant from a ton of paper
work if the rookie screwed up. As we entered the liquor
store the clerk told us the perps were long gone. It was
oblivious that Jackson knew the clerk personally. After
greeting each other by first names. Bill had twenty plus
years on me. He was one of the first Black cops to be
assigned a radio car in the 81 Pct. He told me to go
back and sit in the radio car. I took his cue, recalling
who my first Sergeant in Nam would always take control
of a situation the same way.
As I sat back and lit a cigarette I
listened to the non stop voice of the dispatcher, no
doubt about it, things were heating up, this was going
to be a busy night in the "Hole in the Donut".
Looking into the fogged up window of the
liquor store I could see Old Sal smiling and the clerk
and my partner in a brotherly bear hug.
The radio droned on, job after job, shots
fired in the 83 Pct, a recorded Hold Up alarm in the 90
Pct. at John & Al's Sporting Goods Store. Not an unusual
call, we got them all the time like clock work.
Then a moment that has stood still in my
memory all these years. I heard a voice gasping for
breath and trying to scream over the radio, "10-13
10-13, Officer shot, Myrtle & Broadway. I could actually
hear the gun fire in the back ground. Shit that's our
sector where we bordered the 90 Pct.
I jumped out of the radio car and ran
into the store, "we got a cop shot Myrtle and Broadway".
As we ran back to the car my heart was beating as if it
was going to explode from my chest. We did what dozen of
cops were doing throughout Brooklyn were doing at that
very second. We hit the lights and sirens and raced to the
scene. But unlike most cops we were close, only about 8
blocks away. Bill was a great driver, it was drummed into
rookies at the driver training school, don't make thing
worse by getting into a crash on your way to an
emergency. You are no help unless you arrive safely. We
were there in a minute or so, but it seemed like an
hour. We pulled into the northeast corner of the
intersection facing against traffic. Gunfire was
sounding through out the streets. Unbelievably we were
taking rounds into our radio car, We both bailed out the
drivers side door on to the wet cold street. I crawled
under the car and emptied my service revolver into the
door way of John & Al's. Maybe not the best idea, but I
wasn't going to be a sitting target.
My combat experience told me that we were
taking high caliber rounds. Looking around I could see
that there were three officers down wounded and unable
to get to cover. As I surveyed the scene I could see at
least six more radio cars, with cops pinned down at all
of them. The subway train was still rumbling over head
to add to the nightmare. More and more radio cars were
arriving but unable to get close due to the continues
gun fire coming from within the store. One cop was brave
enough to stand up and wave them off. Over the radio I
could hear a cop trying to explain to Central what the
hell was happening. " Multiple Officer down, We need
Emergency Service forthwith! Need EMS, Perps barricaded
in John & Al's Sporting Goods store, 10-13" he barked.
The cops on the outer perimeter had the
presence of mind to clear the street of civilians, many
who were coming down the stairs of the elevated train
station. Using their bodies to protect them as the ran
down Broadway across the street from John and Al's.
Meanwhile the dispatcher was trying to
get some kind of handle on the situation. "any units
advise how many officers down or wounded ? How many
perps ?" Do we have civilian injuries ?" "Units, Please
advise Central of the status !!" Finally an old 81
Sergeant came on the air trying to calm down the
dispatcher. He transmitted
" Numerous shots being fired" alert all
responding units to use extreme caution"..Have Transit
shut down the trains ". I heard this while trying to
make myself invisible under the radio car.
We were in a world of shit as my First
Sergeant said during the start of the Tet Offensives
just a few short years ago. But that was in the jungles
of Viet-Nam, we were at war. This was happening right in
the middle of the New York City. This was a combat zone.
There was a brake in the firing and a Sergeant ordered
me to run for cover behind the elevated subway pole in
front of the Oasis Bar. This was directly across from
the entrance of John and Al's. Taking cover behind the
radio cars was useless now, the perps, who had a store
full of ammo, were now firing under the radio cars. I
made a mad dash and got behind the pole. Placing my back
against the cold iron and sliding down into a sitting
position. I looked up and saw that the front window of
the Oasis was riddled with bullet holes. This was the
same bar used in the French Connection movie. I thought
it strange, Eddie Eagan -Popeye Doyle- was a detective
in the 81 Precinct detective squad at the time. And it
was who they fashioned the movie hero, Gene Hackman
after. Now would be a good time to reload. I still had
18 more rounds of .38 ammo, and 16 9 mm rounds in my
back up Smith & Wesson which including the 8 in the
clip. Still the subway was rumbling 10 feet above us.
Every time a train pulled into the station we were
unable to hear the radio or each other.
There it was again the Transit Authority
taking its time in shutting down the power. No matter
what the trains had to be on schedule. They ran for
another 10 minutes. When they finally stopped the only
sound was the sporadic gun fire that echoed through out
the cold night.
Still my Brother officers lay in the
street unable to move. Every time someone moved it was
met by a hail of gun fire from within the darkened
store. Then a voice came over the radio. I was sure it
was our 81 Sergeant. His order was to shoot out the
street lights, undoubtedly the first time an order like
that was ever given to New York City cops. But we were
sitting ducks silhouetted by the street lamps. As each
light was shot out it made a terrible crash as the glass
hit the cold streets. I saw a opportunity so I thought.
I called over to a nearby cop. If he could provide cover
fire I felt I could reach the closest wounded cop and
drag him to safety. His reply was quick and stern " Kid
don't be a hero, a hero ain't nothing but a sandwich".
"Emergency Service will be here any second"
Indeed Truck # 8 was on it's way, sirens
& air horns could be heard in the distance. The flashing
lights of Truck # 8 were now visible. ESU was on the
I had know way of knowing it that night
while myself and dozens of other cops were pinned down
on the cold streets of Broadway, but 20 years later
Truck # 8 would be my last assignment in my beloved ESU.
Where I would serve my last tour, and my last midnight.
As I looked down the street I saw the
enormous truck pull to the curb. It was painted Green,
Black, and White. The original color's of the NYPD up
until the middle 1970's. Then I saw the large green
letter on the white back ground which proclaimed "POLICE
EMERGENCY SQUAD". Peering through the cold mist which
now was falling I made out about eight men "all suited
up" in heavy vests and carrying heavy weapons. They were
here to save us. Not my original thought, but I came to
live by the well known adage. " When People need help
they call the Police, "When the Police need help the
call Emergency Service". How true it was that January
night so many years ago. And remains the so today with
the new breed of the men and women of the finest and
most diverse police unit in the world. Today their
responsibilities have grown to be ready to battle
On that night in Williamsburg many of the
police department commanders were World War II and
Korean War veterans. Many of the pinned down cops were
Viet-Nam vets too. We all were a seasoned bunch, even
the rookies like me. I watched as the unmarked cars were
arriving. All as if they were just waxed. You knew they
were never out in the "Killing Fields" of the city's
ghettos unless it was absolutely necessary. Maybe some
old time Irish Boss could figure out this mess.
Over the years cities throughout the
nation, indeed the world. would develop S.W.A.T teams.
While the N.Y.P.D, ever mindful of a liberal
constituency never had such a designated unit, most of
the other cities S.W.A.T teams were based on the
strategy and tactics developed by the NYPD Emergency
Service Division and the parent command the Special
But now the ESU officers had taken up
position all around us. One dashed to a position behind
an elevate subway train pole directly in front of John &
Al's. All this time sporadic gun fire poured from the
Then in a moment frozen in my mind
forever I watched one of the most heroic actions I had
seen out side of actual combat unfold. The ESU officer
behind the pole moved to his right trying to get a
better angle into the shop in order to lay down cover
fire so the rest of the pinned down cops could scamper
to safety. As he moved he was gunned down. He took a
fatal hit, there was no doubt about it. His name was
Steven Gilroy. There is a plaque hanging in Truck # 8
quarters honoring this hero. Along with a plaque
honoring Officer Spinola Truck # 8 who gave his life in
The day came when I would walk past Steve
Gilroys plaque every time I reported for duty at Truck #
8. And every time, it would bring back the smell of the
wet cobble stone street, the fear and anger that we felt
and the frustration of watching Gilroy fall. Sadly
enough another plaque was hung in Truck # 8 Quarters
after 911. Honoring Sgt. Rodney Gillis.
I really can't recall how long we were
pinned down. It seemed like hours, with the firing
reduced to an occasional shot from within the store
every few minutes. Suddenly I noticed flashbulbs popping
and television crews scurrying for position behind the
barriers. Also in the back ground was a rumbling sound I
had not heard since 'Nam. It was coming closer. There
was no mistake about it, that was the sound of a track
vehicle, an APC........Better known as an Armored
Personnel Carrier in the military. Coming closer as it
chewed up the city streets.
It was a vehicle that most cops had heard
about but never had seen. The ever liberal Police
Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy named it the
" Rescue Ambulance". All the street cops
considered it a joke. If it looks like a duck, walks
like a duck, then it must be a duck. But Murphy felt it
was more acceptable to call it the "Rescue Ambulance".
As if that made any sense ? Well we didn't give a shit
what Murphy called it, this was our ticket of harms way.
I must admit that on that night it did perform in a
rescue capacity. The "Rescue Ambulance" jockeyed itself
into position between John & Al's entrance and the
pinned down cops. It allowed the fallen Gilroy to be
removed and the injured officers were able to be safely
extracted. Us pinned down cops were able to get out of
the killing zone too. We were all taken to a Citi-Bank
branch about a block away, this had become the temporary
HQ. There we were now in our filthy, wet, stinking
uniforms, standing in a room full of suits, and the
impeccable Murphy. He made it oblivious that he was
clearly in charge.
After our "debriefing" we were taken
back to our respective commands. I was pissed off that I
had to leave the area as were the others. We wanted to
be in on the capture. We had watched a brother officer
killed, and others wounded. We wanted to finish the job.
The area was now under the control of ESU. Plus we were
tried physically and emotionally. Emotions don't work
well in police work. The stand off lasted for several
It was Sunday morning when I was back for a day tour, 8
AM by 4 PM in cop talk. As I got into uniform I heard 4
shots being fired at the location of John & Al's. Many
years later I found out a team of ESU officers including
my heroes Jack Casey, and Bobby Benz were able to get to
the roof and rescue the hostages. The owner found an old
stair case and lead the hostages to the upper floors of
the store. ESU was already on the roof making entry and
completed the job.
Right after roll call the patrol Sergeant called me
over. He said I was his driver and we were going to the
temp HQ on Broadway. He added Don't forget "Hats and
Bats". In the NYPD that meant your Riot Helmet and Nigh
Stick. When we arrived it all seemed so different then a
couple of days ago. Now it was day light, and a quite
Sunday morning in the "Hole in the Donut"........ It
wasn't to last for long.
There was information that the Black Muslim group who
took over John & Al's wanted to surrender. They now knew
that their ace in the hole was gone, no hostages, no
deals. The only remained factor was not
" if" but "when" was
ESU going to assault the store. As the cowards that they
were they decided that they were no going to go up
against the NYPD Emergency Service Unit. Especially
since they killed an ESU Officer.
I remember watching as the four "freedom fighters"
a.k.a. "Stick-Up Team" exited John & Al's. One by one
playing to the crowd of the several hundred on lookers.
All packed behind the police barricades, as if they were
at the Thanksgiving Day parade. As they walked out they
raised their fists high in the air. The sign of the
Black Power movement. They were quickly taken in to
custody and whisked away to Police Headquarters in
Manhattan. Of course now "political prisoners". Any
excuse for further violence, destruction and death.
Now the crowd starting chanting "Black Power".." Off the
Pigs" "Power to the People". Then the rocks and bottler
rained down on us. A couple of seconds later there was a
tremendous explosion a few blocks away. A fire bomb had
been tossed into a store front. The flames and black
smoke were billowing up towards the blue Sunday morning
sky. Broadway was now on fire..............
The riot had started. Now more stores were burning. More
Molotov cocktails were being thrown, as well as bottles
& rocks. There were reports of sniper fire coming from
the 15 story public housing projects.
Responding firefighters were met with rocks and bottles.
But this was the norm for them in Bedford Styversant.
Standard SOP was that every fire apparatus was to be
escorted by at least on police car when responding to a
fire during normal conditions. I thought what could be
considered "normal" in the 81 Precinct ?
The locals were now "shopping". Some of us might call in
looting. It took several hours to restore peace to the
mean streets of the "Hole in the Donut". It was well
into the early hours of Monday morning before quite came
to the streets. Several businesses lay in smoldering
ruins, cars with their interior gutted by flames
littered the streets. Glass and debris was every where.
Several dozen arrests were made, and several officers
were injured. Property from the stores littered the
streets. Dropped by the looters as the fled when
additional police arrived.
As I returned back to the 81 Station House I took
something away from that first night. I knew that my
future lay with the NYPD Emergency Service Division.
And within two years my dream came true. I was assigned
to ESU Truck # 4 in the Bronx.
Purchase the Book here!