On February 12, 1980, I responded to a 10-13, officer needing assistance, and found Officer Bobby Bilodeau, a Street Crime Unit cop, dying of a gunshot wound after a running gun battle with drug dealers in upper Manhattan. His family was awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor, posthumously; it was his second.
Bilodeau remains as the only officer in NYPD history to have received the medal twice.
Less than a year earlier, on April 5, 1979, Bobby had had his throat slashed by a passerby while acting as a decoy a few blocks south of the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal.
He survived, but it took 63 stitches to close his throat; he nearly died.
It took him just three weeks to come back on the job after his throat was slashed.
He told me that he had needed to come back because he needed to protect people who weren’t able to protect themselves. For him, being a cop, and being part of the all-volunteer Street Crime Unit wasn’t just his job; it was his calling.
I thought of Bobby, now dead over 40 years, the other day as I heard New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea speak of disbanding the 600 officer Anti-Crime Unit, the successor to the Street Crime Unit where Bobby had served.
Reportedly, Commissioner Shea decided to disband the Anti-Crime Unit because it was disproportionately involved with so many shootings and civilian complaints. (One review of shooting statistics claimed 31% of all NYPD killings came from the roughly 6% of the force on the Anti-Crime Unit. ACU also reportedly had a disproportionately high percentage of civilian complaints.)
But Shea’s dodgy, top-side, assumption about that data set is that a uniformed officer responding to crimes in a radio mobile patrol (RMP) car will have the same policing experience as a plainclothes ACU cop actively seeking out crimes in progress.
The disproportionate stats NYPD critics cite to eliminate the ACU result from the unit’s aggressive, proactive, peripatetic, daily policing in some of the city’s highest crime neighborhoods, "looking for the worst people in the worst neighborhoods during the worst hours," as one John Jay instructor put it. Anti-crime cops might have 10, 20 or even 30 encounters with suspects or victims to each uniformed officer’s single encounter.
Nearly 50 years ago my old boss, David Durk, the crusading, media-savvy, politically-connected, NYPD commander whose disclosures, along with those of the famous Frank Serpico, led to the creation of the Knapp Commission, acknowledged to me that it was about 10% of cops — aggressive, risk-taking, go-getters like Bobby Bilodeau and I were —who made about 90% of the arrests.
That realization ultimately led to the creation of the Street Crime Unit in 1971.
Street Crimes’ unofficial slogan, adopted after I left, was "We Own the Night."
Commissioner Shea’s radical and misguided move to eliminate the Anti-Crime Unit will diminish the extraordinary performance of a few cops to align it with those of the many; to make great, heroic, risk-taking, go-getter, cops just "so-so," mail-it-in civil-service drones who seek to fall into the middle of the bell curve of performance rather than to be among the best.
The result will be that crime — especially violent crimes in high-crime neighborhoods —will spike and people, overwhelmingly people of color, will die.
The NYPD won’t "Own the Night," the criminals and gang-bangers will.
And the people in the high crime neighborhoods where ACU operated most will suffer most as their sons, daughters, husbands and wives suffer the criminal pathology of the few that only policing can stop.
Great cops like Bobby Bilodeau would have had no part of it.
Neither should Commissioner Shea.
Let’s hope he sees the folly of his mistake before too many people have to die.
Richard"Bo" Dietl, the founder and CEO of Beau Dietl & Associates was an NYPD police officer and detective from 1970 to 1985. As a member of the Street Crime Unit and the Anti-Crime Unit, he was mugged over 500 times as a decoy, hospitalized over 30 times, and effected over 1,600 felony arrests. He never resorted to deadly force. Twitter: @Bodietl
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