NYPD Blue Badge LogoNew York cops are the best! Well, at least two of them I met in about 1975 are the best. Or were, back then. They came roaring into Milwaukee one day, subpoenaed to the south east Wisconsin Federal District Court for a major drug trial regarding a crime that began in their fair city. It’s not uncommon for big city narcs to get involved with federal drug cases, and then be subpoenaed all over the country because of a sprawling drug dealing ring.

It was in the summer and we often needed to work different shifts. Well, they weren’t really shifts, they time allotments handed out according to the need of the department. Maybe there was a wee hour raid scheduled. Or an early morning roust and arrest of sleeping people wanted on warrants. Often times I’d process drug evidence – testing and then providing the initial probable cause that it was an illegal substance. Plenty of court in the morning and work at night for those, and other reasons.

But cases in other cities, across the nation? Not so much. I had two: One in Cincinnati to pick up a prisoner, and once to testify in Chicago. But New York was the gateway to the New World and all the drugs that criminals could cart, carry, and conspire to sell.


Al Pacino as scruffy undercover NY cop Serpico

My partner and I were still in the office around 4:00 pm when two of the scruffiest looking street dudes you ever saw came into our office. We were in the back, and unknown people had to be screened. These guys looked like they’d flunk every policeman screening test you could ever think up.

They were perfect.

The detective in charge said to me and my partner: “You guys are hereby off duty. Get my meaning? We need you to show these fine New York detectives around our city. They’ll be testifying at the federal building on a New York heroin caper, and they got here a day early.”

Now, what he meant was we were to make sure the two refined gentlemen went to the right places and didn’t get involved in any unnecessary kinds of activity, which would cause problems for the Milwaukee police authorities who would have to explain everything later. Follow me so far? My partner and I happened to be considered experts at going to all the right places to which I am referring, and taking visiting officers with us, and making sure nothing went wrong. After all, we were all “blue bloods” all the time. Right?

We couldn’t have been happier to help our East Coast brothers of the law. They couldn’t have been happier than to be with two enthusiastic undercover officers who knew all the right places for people who looked the way we did. We hit the streets together. My partner was driving – a disgusting piece of an old, beat up vehicle. We were “pretending” to drink liquor in order to feel more at ease.

After all, we were now off duty. So, we could pretend to drink. Okay?

We exchanged so-called police “war stories” and I laughed until I thought my sides would split. All of the business people to whom we introduced the New York narcs were impressed. We went from place to place, showing the New York guys our town. Things were going great. By nine o’clock we’d all pretended to drink about a ton of booze each. One of the New York guys was enjoying himself so much he was speechless. Literally. We all said we’d be really, really tired by the end of the evening, and the New York narcs were lucky they could sleep late the next day.

And then it happened.

We had the need to place ourselves on duty to deal with an illegal drug emergency. I know that sounds strange. Well, it was. It was going on 10:00 p.m. And we all needed to be going home. But my partner remembered an extremely important meeting he had with a leader of a notoriously criminal motorcycle gang on the east side of the city. The man was a leader of the notoriously lawless gang, that had a national reputation for serious criminal activity – like buying and selling illegal drugs – and we’d been waiting to take him down for a long time. Well, my partner and the Captain of the Narcotics Squad were quietly – secretly – waiting for the break, and my partner’s informant had called the office to tell my partner that Mr. Big Shot motorcycle guy was waiting to see my partner at a hell hole tavern on East Brady Street. He was going to do business.

“What are you going to do with the New York guys?” the detective in charge said to me over the phone. “You can’t take them with you, you know.”

“Of course,” I said, and rang off.

“How are we gonna take these guys with us,” my partner asked when I got back to his car after using an outdoor public phone booth. (Remember them?) The two New York undercovers sat quietly in the back seat. Actually, one of them had fallen asleep and the other one forgot which language he spoke. Or something like that.

“No problem,” I said. “We’ll just go to the joint, you’ll go into the place and score the dope, and I’ll be waiting with them, a block away in the car.”

“That’s not what you were told, was it?” my partner said.

“Are they armed, by the way?” I replied.

My partner and I searched and found a high caliber revolver on each of them. One of them got out of the car (I’m leaving out exactly how he got out of the car) and proudly pulled open his jacket. Sure enough, the big-ass gun was in its holster on his hip.

There was more being said, and what-have-you, as you can well imagine, but I’m going to leave it out. It’s not germane to the subject, anyway.

We were on Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee’s main downtown street, so we got a good, well-lighted look at his piece. Traffic whizzed by the whole time.

We decided that it was a “go.” We drove to Milwaukee’s not-so-distinguished lower East Side, haven of the remnants of the hippie counter culture. One of the guys had fallen fast asleep, if you get my meaning, so we decided to leave him in the back seat. The livelier of the two wanted to help as much as he could, like come into the bar with us and “watch our backs.”

We decided against that plan.

And Mr. Big Shot motorcycle dude only knew my partner, so I and the New York narc would have only created anxiety for him.

We parked the car on a side street two blocks from the tavern. We checked the sleeping New York narc. He was still alive. The more-or-less fully awake New York narc insisted on getting out of the car. He had to pee. The tree next to us was a fine target. And then – uh-oh – he decided he’d rather not get back in the car.

Change of plans.

Originally, I was going to sit on the cement steps of a closed resale shop across the street from the tavern, while my partner went in to buy the heroin. That changed to me and the New York narc sitting together on the cement steps of the old resale shop. He wouldn’t leave my side, and was getting more and more – sleepy.

By the time we got to the steps, we were carrying the New York narc. It was okay, he wasn’t a real big guy. We sat him down, and I sat with him, while my partner went across to the tavern.

We waited on the steps. And waited. And waited. At first a soft snoring sound joined us – coming from the oh-so-tired New York narc – and then it grew. And grew. And grew.

The area was a hub-bub of party-ers walking from tavern to tavern. Some of them walked past us and laughed. I’ll never forget two young women who sneered as they passed, with one of them saying, “Tough to pass out right on the street.”

I smiled and nodded. No, it isn’t I did not say.

After too long awhile my partner finally came out of the tavern and started walking toward where we’d parked his car – in a direction opposite of me!

These are not the New York undercover detectives in the article...

These are not the New York undercover detectives in the article…

I shook the New Yorker, and he actually came awake. A little. I leaned to his ear and told him in a stern voice that he had to walk as best as he could, because the deal was done. He actually did all he could to help me lift and then walk him to our car.

All was well. My partner had scored half an ounce of smack, our two guests slept quietly in the back seat, and we drove off.

“I’ll process the dope in the morning, and these two can sleep at my place,” my partner said while dropping me off at my car near the police headquarters building.

I wondered if anyone but an experienced cop would ever believe my story. I still wonder.



ROb2This is the 12th in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

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