As Seen On Discovery Channel's "Street Justice: The Bronx"
2,000 arrests. 100 off-duty arrests. 6,000 assists. 15 shootings. 8 shot. 4 kills. These are not the performance statistics of an entire NYPD unit. They are the record that makes Detective 2nd Grade Ralph Friedman a legend.
Friedman was arguably the toughest cop ever to wear the shield and was the most decorated detective in the NYPD’s 170-year history. Stationed at the South Bronx’s notorious 41 Precinct, known by its nickname “Fort Apache,” Friedman served during one of the city’s most dire times: the 1970s and ‘80s, when fiscal crisis, political disillusionment, an out-of-control welfare system, and surging crime and drug use were just a few of its problems.
Street Warrior tells an unvarnished story of harrowing vice and heroic grit, including Friedman’s reflections on racial profiling, confrontations with the citizens he swore to protect, and the use of deadly force.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
RALPH FRIEDMAN served the NYPD from 1970 to 1984, at which time he retired due to being injured in the line of duty. In his short career he amassed more awards and honors than any other detective in the NYPD’s history. Street Warrior: The True Story of the NYPD's Most Decorated Detective and the Era That Created Him chronicles his career.
PATRICK PICCIARELLI, a former U.S. Army machine gunner, spent twenty years in the NYPD, retiring as a lieutenant, and is a licensed private investigator. The author of Jimmy the Wags and Undercover Cop, he regularly contributes to Hardboiled magazine, among other publications.
Read an Excerpt
July 10, 1967, 10:00 PM — Connecting Highway, Astoria, Queens
I braked my '67 Mustang to a screeching halt under the first overpass, engine rumbling. To my left was my opponent, behind the wheel of a '64 Mercury coupe. He looked to be about my age, with a head of greasy hair slicked back into a pompadour that seemed to defy gravity. He revved his engine, and I did likewise as we waited for the "go" handkerchief to signal the beginning of the race.
The road we were on was a straight quarter mile trench situated between twenty-foot walls, an overpass on each end. A crowd of at least a thousand onlookers looked down on us from both sides of the road, waving and screaming. How much money was being wagered on this race and the dozens like it that would take place on this sweltering summer night was anyone's guess.
Most of the drivers were racing for the glory; a few older guys with investments in their cars might be betting on their machines and their ability to win, but at eighteen I was lucky to have had enough money to buy my car to begin with. I had socked away cash from the several jobs I'd worked and bought the Mustang to race it at local tracks. I also raced at established tracks like National Speedway and West Hampton Raceway. My parents knew I had the car but had no idea about the racing, and I wasn't about to share.
The buildup to the race was almost as thrilling as the race itself. Our track was a length of well-paved highway that connected (hence the name "Connecting Highway") the eastbound lanes of the Grand Central Parkway (GCP) to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). You couldn't ask for a better road short of a professional speedway.
It took coordination to run these races. The road was heavily traveled around the clock, and this was a holiday weekend. People were going places. Race participants and fans would walk out onto the off-ramp of the GCP and stop traffic while the next two cars set to race would line up. It had to be done quickly to avoid pissing off the wrong driver.
The races would go on all night. Where were the cops? you might ask. They didn't have the manpower to control the hordes of racers, aggravated commuters, and thousands of fans who lined up on both sides of the trench to watch. The police would ride the road every so often, but as soon as they left the races would resume. Occasionally, the police would embarrass themselves by trying to chase a participant, getting left in the dust every time. Eventually, someone had the bright idea to call the fire department and have them hose down the highway, which stopped the races cold as soon as the drivers learned they could hydroplane their prized autos into the high concrete walls that braced the road. But it took years to come up with the hosing solution, and for many years, the Connecting Highway was the place for speed buffs to race cars on a weekend night.
The races went very quickly. But it was a bitch waiting to start, sitting in your car with the air-conditioning turned off to add off-the-starting-line thrust and with your windows rolled up to reduce the drag coefficient. July 10, 1967, was a scorcher. At 10 PM, the sun was down, but it still had to be in the mid-90s.
When we finally blasted off the starting line, I was sweating profusely, both from the heat and nervous energy. I fishtailed a bit and took the lead immediately, ramming through the gears in my custom Bang shifter automatic transmission in a blur, leaving my opponent in the midst of a burnt-rubber cloud. I won handily, my time fifteen seconds for the quarter mile, and basked in the glow of cheering spectators.
Anyone could race the Connecting Highway. While winning was about bragging rights, the thrill from throngs of spectators cheering you on was its own reward. Therefore, it wasn't odd to see the occasional six-cylinder heap going for the gold. Involvement was all about having fun and experiencing the adrenaline rush of competition and speed. If someone would've told me that night that I'd be policing the hellish world of the South Bronx in two years, I'd have thought him crazy.
We lived in the middle-class Fordham section of the Bronx on Kingsbridge Road, a mostly white, cohesive neighborhood of Italian, Jewish, and Irish families. My mom, Fay, was a stay-at-home mom, like most mothers I knew back then. My dad, David, managed the San Carlos Hotel in Manhattan. My brother, Stu, was four years younger than me, and we were very close. Because of the age difference, we had different friends, but I still looked out for him. That was my job as the older brother; it was my obligation under the unwritten rules of life on the street.
Boys get into the occasional fight, and we were no different, but if I felt Stu was getting unjustly persecuted, bullied, or outnumbered, because of his age and size, I came to the rescue. These incidents didn't happen often, but when they did I wasn't shy about kicking some ass. Such was life on the street in the Bronx. We learned from an early age that family is sacrosanct. Ambush my brother, and you'd be dealing with me. I was detained a few times by the local police for fighting but never arrested. Years later, I would work with two of those police officers.
It was a good neighborhood, and I couldn't imagine having better parents. My father was very involved in our lives, something I didn't see much of in some of my friends' families, where their fathers worked their asses off, came home, ate dinner, had a few cocktails, and went to sleep. I can't recall a day passing without my father asking questions at the dinner table about our day and involving himself in our lives every chance he got. Dinner was always a treat. The hotel where my father worked was connected to the Black Angus Restaurant, and so he was always bringing home the best cuts of meat.
I began seriously lifting weights in my early teens, and with the massive amounts of food I was consuming — I could put away an entire pie and quart of milk in one sitting, not to mention those rich, meaty dinners — my scrawny body was transforming into a powerhouse. I worked hard at it.
The Vietnam War was in full swing, and while most guys my age were smoking weed and drinking any cheap form of booze they could find, I never touched either. I viewed that crap as poison and abstained from it totally because I regarded my body as sacred. I don't drink alcohol, and getting high to me means standing on a chair.
My main concern — and that of my parents — was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I'd had a fierce work ethic since I was twelve years old and had an after-school job delivering clothes for a neighborhood dry cleaner. There were times when I had two jobs, one in Manhattan delivering packages for a few hours and then back to the Bronx, where I'd finish off the day working for a butcher. After graduating high school, my dad got me a job as a furniture mover for the princely sum of $4.50 an hour, the minimum wage back then being $1.15 an hour. I saved my money and bought my first car, a 1959 Cadillac, which was as big as an aircraft carrier with Godzilla fins.
I wasn't lacking for drive; direction was another story.
I contemplated joining the army, but the three-year enlistment commitment didn't thrill me. When you're that age, three years doing anything seems like a lifetime. A few of my friends were joining, and most wound up in Vietnam.
Also, my father was vociferous in his objection to my enlisting. "You know there's a war going on, right?"
My father, a World War II–wounded army combat veteran, had a point, so I crossed the military off my list. But perhaps I'd have no choice: there was a lottery system back then based on birth dates, and, when the numbers were drawn, I was way down the list with little chance of being called up. Probably the only time in my life I'd ever win a lottery.
Time went by. I was eighteen and still pretty much aimless, but that was about to change. On a Friday night, I was hanging out with two friends when the subject of what we were going to do with the rest of the weekend came up. Rain was forecast; therefore, I didn't consider drag racing.
"Taking the police test," one guy said, which was quickly echoed by my other friend. "It's a walk-in, over at Clinton." I'd graduated from Clinton, an all-boys high school in the neighborhood.
I knew nothing about any police test. "What's a walk-in?" I asked.
They explained to me that in an effort to attract more applicants to the police department, the usual mountain of paperwork that accompanied an application to be a cop had been waived. This was 1967, when the Vietnam War was kicking into high gear and there was a general fuck-the-government sentiment in the country. Cops weren't popular, and the city's recruitment effort to fill the ranks that were rapidly depleting due to retirement and the draft was going nowhere. Eliminating some of the paperwork seemed like a good idea, and the test might attract people who didn't have anything better to do that day.
"What time's this test?" I asked. I was curious but not really interested.
I considered this. On the one hand, I'd been working all week and wanted to sleep in tomorrow morning; on the other hand, I was hauling other people's furniture for Neptune Movers for a living and there was nothing to look forward to in that line of work except a bad back.
I decided to give my future half a damn. "Tell you what ... come by and ring my bell when you're on your way. If I'm up, I'll go with you."
Well, I was up, and I took the test along with thousands of applicants in other schools throughout the city.
I didn't know what to expect, but the test was made very easy to get the 3,500 cops the city needed. I was sure I scored high and expected to be called up when I turned twenty-one. The moment I completed the test, I began to get psyched about the job. The day before, I couldn't have cared less about the NYPD, but after the test I was envisioning what seemed to be a bright future.
I was half right: I scored in the top 5 percent, but instead of waiting to turn twenty-one before I went on the job, I was offered the position of trainee in the interim. A trainee is a civilian member of the NYPD who is basically in the civil service equivalent of purgatory. Too young to be a sworn officer, you languish in a non–law enforcement job until you hit the magic age. So on January 28, 1968, I was appointed an NYPD trainee.
Trainees wore gray uniforms and attended the police academy on East Twentieth Street in Manhattan. The uniforms, which displayed the NYPD shoulder patch, were also worn to and from the academy because the city wanted us to be visible and, as such, a deterrent to crime. I thought nothing about traveling the New York City subway with a uniform that clearly identified me as belonging to the NYPD. No gun, no shield, no nightstick, just a blissfully content trainee riding in the belly of the beast with no fear of being slaughtered by a cop hater. True, I wasn't a cop, but I was on my way to being one and was identified with the job by the uniform. Only when I think back on it now does it strike me as strange. Anyone with a score to settle or a political statement to make could've taken me out with no fuss. Those were different times, however, and while cops were unpopular — that never changes — they weren't being ambushed for no other reason than that they chose the wrong profession, like they are today.
Trainees were taught nonlethal skills, learning how the job worked on an administrative level. The NYPD, like any law enforcement agency, documents everything, and has a form to fit any police contingency. We learned them all, plus some technical expertise like how to fingerprint civilians who needed prints taken for a variety of city licenses and permits.
After training, I was assigned to the 44th Precinct, located near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, pretty close to home. I was no longer required to wear the gray uniform and came to work dressed pretty much in anything I wanted. The cops were glad to have me; whatever I was assigned to do meant they didn't have to, which in this case was fingerprinting civilians.
Tedious and frustrating, fingerprinting people who weren't used to the process often screwed up the print cards by unnecessary movement or failure to listen to directions to remain relaxed and let me roll their fingers. Still, being around real cops every day made me even more anxious to get my shield and hit the street.
I wasn't comfortable working indoors, but I had little choice. The cops had a lot of freedom, did their jobs, and had leeway as to how they performed their duties. The job was proactive; the bosses wanted their troops to make arrests and stir up the pot. Cops were respected by their bosses, if not by the community, but it made little difference. Cops liked being cops; I could see it on their faces, their interaction with each other, and their respect for the sergeants who supervised them. The sergeants backed their cops, and cops wanted to please their sergeants. Morale is everything in police work.
I fully expected to spend my trainee time in the Four-Four, but after seven months was abruptly transferred to police headquarters at 240 Centre Street in Manhattan with the advent of the new 911 emergency system. New Yorkers could now dial three digits in the event of a police emergency instead of calling an operator, who would then direct the call to the appropriate precinct or dial seven numbers to a borough emergency line.
Initially, I took incoming phone calls from those needing police assistance. It was a bit of a learning curve — not for me, but for the good citizens of the city who didn't seem to know what an emergency was. I'd get calls for literally everything, from the proverbial lost cat to people who needed directions. I gained a respect for anyone who has to deal with the public, particularly over the phone.
Luckily, I got moved within the 911 system to the action desk, which is where ranking members of the job got informed regarding important or high-profile occurrences throughout the city. Details of violent crimes, multivictim accidents, fires, floods, etcetera got relayed to the people who made the decisions.
There were no personal computers back then; information was passed the old-fashioned way, by writing it on an index card, putting it on a conveyer belt, and sending it on its way. I did this for fourteen months until the day I turned twenty-one. This is a milestone in anyone's life, but for me it was like being reborn.
I was going to be a police officer — finally.
I was sworn in on February 2, 1970, and went back to the police academy, this time to learn the job of being a New York City cop.
I took to the training immediately, particularly the physical portion. I'd been weight training for years and was in top shape, still following my no-booze, no-cigarettes, no-drugs policy. My fellow recruits, especially those who smoked, had a difficult time keeping up with the daily runs. We ran inside the gym, circling it numerous times until we were ready to drop. These runs had been conducted outside at one time, with hour-long jogs through the neighborhood, until people who didn't like cops very much started to throw stuff from rooftops at the rookies.
As part of our physical training we also had to become CPR certified. While we were taught how to resuscitate someone, using the technique wasn't mandatory. Locking lips with an unconscious stranger while trying to breathe life into him can be hazardous to your own life. I know quite a few cops who contracted diseases, mostly hepatitis, doing just that. The unwritten rule adhered to by most of the rank and file was that we would use CPR only on someone we knew (read: family). Soon enough, I would come to discover how important CPR training would be, but for now it was just another skill we were adding to our résumé on a daily basis.
What the recruits most looked forward to was firearms training, which was conducted at the outdoor range at Rodman's Neck in the Bronx. The facility was under the command of Lieutenant Frank McGee, a former World War II submariner who ran the range like a military installation. Rodman's Neck was a self-contained operation with dining facilities, expansive firing ranges, and numerous Quonset-hut classrooms. The place was kept orderly by trusted prisoners from nearby Rikers Island, who roamed the sixty-acre facility with landscaping tools.
Excerpted from "Street Warrior"
Copyright © 2017 Ralph Friedman and Patrick Picciarelli.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although I never met Ralph Friedman our career paths would have certainly crossed had I worked in the Bronx, or he in Manhattan. His book is an amazing account of how police work as accomplished in the 70's. ironically I retired on a line of duty disability in 1980. To this day I would give up everything I accomplished since retiring for one more week with my old squad. Excellent book. Detective Dennis Deppert (Ret) NYPD 6th Division Homicide