PW: In your book Blue Blood you refer to your work as a New York City policeman as being on "the Job." What has surprised you most about the job?
At first, what surprised me was how much people liked cops, especially in neighborhoods like mine, in the South Bronx. People need cops there, and most people are happy to see them, most of the time. Now it's the day-to-day insanities: how a kid can walk around a room with his dead grandmother in it, talking to his friends, as if she were furniture; a baby drowns in a bucket; a cab driver makes up a story about how two lesbian gangsters tried to rob him. I think 9/11 did make people appreciate the police more, but the feeling is fading, even in New York.
Has your Harvard education been an advantage?
Detective work involves quite a bit of writing and legal argument, so in that sense my education is a benefit. But there are lots of great detectives who barely got out of high school—Eddie Egan, the hero of the French connection case, could barely spell. And experience tends to be more relevant than education.
Were you concerned at all about the frank depiction in Blue Blood of some of your superiors?
The book is overwhelmingly positive about the job. For the most part, the cops and bosses I've worked with have been a pleasure. Two or three bosses take their licks in the book, but it's what happened, and I stand by it.
You write that you're not a reformer, but given your intelligence, why aren't you interested in being a boss?
I love case work, helping victims and catching bad guys. I have no interest in administration or management. I like robbery and traditional detective work because you have real victims—individual human beings who need you to help them. Narcotics work is essential, but it's also abstract, or environmental in a sense—a building or a block is better off when you've taken out the dealers, but it's not as direct or immediate.
Is corruption a serious problem?
Wherever there is corruption, it's by nature serious. But there doesn't seem to be much of it. In recent cases, when a cop is caught doing wrong, the general reaction on the job tends to be of genuine surprise and disappointment. The Mollen Commission had much less of an impact on the NYPD than the Knapp Commission, in part because the Knapp reforms were substantially successful.
Who deserves credit for the major drop in crime over the last decade? Does it make much of a difference who the mayor and commissioner are for the cops on the beat?
Crime has continued to drop since I became a cop, for two mayors and four commissioners. Maybe it's me. Seriously, the police department can never declare victory and go home. Ten years ago, no one thought we'd cut the murder rate down to 600 or so. In a sense, we're struggling with our own success and the expectations we've created. When Dinkins was mayor, at the height of the crack wars, patrol cops were discouraged from making drug arrests. We also had 2,000 homicides a year. It's hard to avoid the connection there.
Were you concerned that your book will reveal police methods, especially those on narcotics tactics? Did the NYPD vet or censor it?
No. I showed it to a few cop friends, and a few made suggestions about things that might ruffle a few feathers, but the First Amendment covers me, too. There are plenty of things I've left out of the book, in terms of tactics and practices. And you can't turn on the TV without watching how police operate.
Do you expect to write more about the job?
I hope so. The stuff keeps coming in—it's the joy of the job. You knock on a door, and someone tells you a story.