42nd Precinct Ride Along


“Waaahhh! Waaaahhhh! Waaaah!” Boom-Boom laid on the siren, barreling through the intersection of Boston Road and 169th Street. From the radio call and Officer Washington’s driving, it seemed like a “heavy job,” cop-talk for a potentially serious call. Our battered blue-and-white Chevy cruiser sped toward the northeast corner of the 42nd Precinct. “Report of three Hispanic males in the basement with drugs and guns. Officers on scene now,” Sergeant Palmer explained, adding that it likely wasn’t quite so serious, but merely a landlord seeking to get rid of some recalcitrant people. As we closed in on the address, the female radio dispatcher (whose voice was right out of central casting) informed us, “No further,” and we were soon heading the other way.

I wondered what happened. Had the landlord and the allegedly armed druggies settled their disagreement? I figured that Sergeant Palmer and Officer Frederick ‘Boom-Boom’ Washington would explain this literal turn of events in due course, which they did. “No further” means “the officers on scene need no further assistance.”

My morning Ride Along with the Four-Two had been educational from the start. Rising early, I caught the 5:48 train to Fordham station, and then a number 55 bus down to 163rd Street, where I arrived half an hour ahead of time. The NYPD’s Ride Along paperwork had been adamant, “Show up late and the deal is off.” Thus, a few minutes before the scheduled 7:00AM start, I pushed through the heavy oak door of the 42nd precinct house, and obediently stopped in front of the huge STOP sign wired to the railing. (Traffic signs look a lot bigger inside.)

Soon enough, a courteous policeman asked me my business, and when I said I was there for a Ride Along, he nodded, asked for my paperwork and driver’s license, and then … vanished. For the next hour, I sat and watched police officers buzzing about during the shift change. “Surely, no cop would grab my license and official Permission Slip, and just disappear,” I re-assured myself, while feeling a bit like a fifth grader lost on a school field trip.

About 8, I was called forward and issued my bullet-proof vest – pastel blue. Pfffft, nowhere near bad-ass enough. But I donned it and Officer Washington took the photo above, the last of the morning, as photos aren’t permitted on Ride Alongs.

Mornings are fairly quiet in any precinct, and during my four hour ride, we only went to two or three radio calls, plus one trip to the hospital.

The first “job” was on Boston Road, a woman complaining of sexual assault. I stayed out of sight, figuring that four police officers would be imposing enough to the poor woman; the presence of some unidentified old white dude in a bullet-proof vest surely wouldn’t help anything. The story quickly became very complicated, a familiar “she-said, he-said,” matter. The cops had no choice but to haul off the alleged perpetrator, who lived in the same apartment building, just down the hall. “This is a bullshit charge,” he insisted, “actually stemming from the other incident with the baseball bat.” Honestly, the guy was calmer and better spoken than I would have been while being arrested by New York’s Finest. Whether he was innocent or merely a good actor, is for the judge to decide. The complainant, a rather large woman, rode with us back to “the house.” She seemed remarkably calm about the whole deal.

The saddest thing was the fifteen year-old kid caught shoplifting in Pathmark, $140 worth of Advil and a Sprite. No one, not the manager of the store nor the cops wanted to push matters and arrest the kid. They just wanted to bring him back to his parents. But the kid glared and scowled and kept mum, like the cops were his mortal enemies, rather than just good guys doing their job and more than anxious to cut him some slack. I think he was released to his foster parents that morning, but you gotta guess he’s going to end up “in the system” again.

The trip to the hospital was different. A shooting (knifing?) victim was brought to the hospital, at which point, it came to light that she, the victim this time, had outstanding warrants for her own misdeeds. Thus, she was shackled to her bed, while a cop stayed with her. In brief, Sgt. Palmer had to sign off that his officer was indeed baby-sitting the victim/perpetrator. “Very common,” he explained.

Most of the morning, we rolled around the precinct, an irregular square mile stretching from 161st Street to the Cross Bronx, bounded on the west by Webster Avenue, and on the east by Prospect Avenue and then jogging over to the Sheridan Expressway. Both cops knew the neighborhood intimately: from Ernie, the homeless guy in his reflective vest to the security guard at the clinic we stopped in. By some accident of design, or perhaps bureaucratic ineptitude, the station is located way down in the southwest corner of the precinct, rather than centrally. So, as the cops necessarily go back and forth from “the house,” during their shift, they are that much farther away from wherever they might be needed.

All in all, it was great morning, even nice weather. Seeing professional, friendly, relaxed guys like Officer Washington and Sergeant Palmer go about keeping the peace, moving traffic along, and interacting with the people in their community was a real treat. A final word of advice for anyone considering the NYPD’s Ride Along, go with the 3PM, not the 7AM, shift.