About Al Sheppard

E-Man - The Book

Police Emergency Squad


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This 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, New York.

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 this night.

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 politics.

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 sniper.

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 guys.  

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 shooting.

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 tonight.

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 scene.

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 international terrorists.

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 Operations Division.

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 darkened store.

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 a rescue.

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 days.

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.

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