Dealing with reprobates who say, “Do you know who I am?”
I’ve known a lot of politicians in my life, from New York City to Long Island to Denton County, Texas. During my 20 years as a cop in the Big Apple, I had to deal with the politics within and without the department. It might be a union leader whom I opposed because he was taking us down the wrong path, an incompetent lieutenant with a bad habit of blaming his foul-ups on his subordinates, or a habitual drunk-driving state assemblyman living in my patrol area who thought he was invulnerable because of his “connections.” I never had any respect for people who abused their official positions. I had heard about that assemblyman from a few of the other cops in my precinct. Essentially, they told me to give the guy a pass if I ever happened to witness his inebriated traffic infractions.
Although I was a rookie cop with a lot to learn about the “rules” of preferential treatment toward those with clout, I grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan, raised by a tough mom who taught me to never back down in the face of adversity. Now I was a cop in Brooklyn, and I was getting an education about the pecking order of that system commonly known as “justice.” Well, as fate would have it, one night I had occasion to cross paths with the obnoxious state representative. My partner and I saw a black Cadillac with its lights off as it moved erratically along Bedford Avenue.
I put the roof lights on and noticed the thick-necked driver casually eyeing the rotating beams in his rearview mirror. He continued driving for about a half mile until I gave a quick blast on the siren. Even then, he drove a few more blocks before pulling over. As I exited my vehicle, his door opened and he swung one leg out, followed by a short struggle to plant the other one on the pavement. He proceeded to lift himself out of the vehicle, stumbling slightly as he reached for balance against the door frame. As I approached him with flashlight glowing, his eyes were so bloodshot that it was hard to see any white around the pupils.
With such an obvious demonstration of drunken driving, I was expecting a mournful mea culpa from the hulking figure, dressed in a rumpled suit and tie. Instead, the scowl on his ruddy face could have been perceived as an imminent attack. “Sir, please get back in your car, and let me see some identification,” I said. “Hey, didn’t you see my plate?” he barked, referring to the New York State Assembly insignia attached to his license plate. “Sir, are you going to show me some ID?” I replied. He backed up slightly, still leaning against the car to keep from falling. Then he looked toward my partner, who was standing next to our vehicle with the roof lights still on. “Whasamatter, don’t you guys know who I am?” he demanded, slurring his words.
That was the wrong thing to say to me. Realizing I was getting nowhere with this reprobate, I walked past him, reached into his car, shut the engine, and took the keys. “What da f— ya think you’re doin’?” he shouted, grabbing my arm to get his keys. Now, as they say, the die had been cast! That bum didn’t think it was possible for a mere cop to challenge his majestic authority. What followed was not pretty, but necessary. Suffice it to say his suit was even more rumpled by the time I put cuffs on him and got him into the station house. It turned out that it was his first DWI arrest, undoubtedly because he had always intimidated his way out of such situations.
Nevertheless, as a first-time offender (as far as the law was concerned), he, with the help of a lawyer friend of his, pleaded to reckless driving or some other lesser offense and simply paid a fine. I, however, found myself with a schedule change and some very demeaning beats to walk during midnight to 8 A.M. tours. In addition, a sergeant was assigned to give me extra supervision as I walked those ice-cold winter streets for the duration of my “punishment.” That was my reward for taking a dangerous drunk driver off the street.
During one of those frigid nights, as I walked my beat, the sergeant’s driver pulled over to the curb and his boss beckoned to me. As I approached, he opened his window slightly and requested my memo book. As he was signing it, to attest that I was getting “properly supervised,” he looked up at me from the warmth of the passenger seat and said with a sardonic grin, “Well kid, was it worth it?” I don’t think I responded, possibly because my lips were frozen. Ultimately, my commanding officer, who had some clout of his own in the department, ended my sentence and restored my regular schedule. To my surprise, he called me to his office and said he was proud of me because he hated that arrogant SOB in the State Assembly. That meant a lot to me because I was beginning to wonder if I was on the wrong job. I wanted to find that sergeant and say, “It was not only worth it, it was my finest hour!”