The summer is the busiest time in this precinct, which comprises Coney Island and Brighton Beach. You never know what will happen in four hours (hence the vest), but being that it’s a rainy winter day, the officers tell me, the “jobs” we’re most likely to see on our “tour” (“tour of duty”) are traffic violations and family disputes (that’s “DIS-putes,” not “dis-PUTES”).
Our first stop is a corner deli (not a Dunkin’ Donuts). Officer G., the talkative one, with silver hair and an open face (and who mentions, over the course of our tour, both a wife and a girlfriend), grabs an egg-and-cheese and a coffee. Officer B. is his partner, African American and more taciturn.
The car fills with egg smells. Then the CB radio fizzles with a female voice that will offer a nearly continuous litany of the day’s disasters in acronym form. We get our first job: a curbside emergency-call box has been pulled. We sidle up to it, and the officers duck into the neighboring C-Town to see if there’s been any trouble: negative, a prank.
Next job: a thirteen-year-old possible runaway. He might be at his grandmother’s apartment. As we walk toward the entrance, both officers look up. “Whenever you enter the projects, you gotta always remember to watch for air mail,” Officer B. says.
Apparently police are so unpopular here that they get pelted with objects from upper-story windows. Inside it smells like half a century of cigarette smoke. The fluorescent lighting flickers so intensely we look like we’re in a disco. The officers assume formation to the side of a door wrapped in Christmas paper. “Never stand in front of a door you’re knocking on,” Officer B. says. No one answers. They shine their flashlights up and down some stairwells. As we leave, a call from Central tells us that the kid “ran away” to school. As we wait for the next call, we take the car on a spin along the boardwalk, chasing away some seagulls and a man doing calisthenics in a Speedo.
As we drive past schools, gated communities, housing projects, and stores, the officers give me the rundown of what types of crimes to look out for. In Brighton Beach, public intoxication is a big problem; in Coney Island, it’s gang shootings. They begin to warm up, and soon stories of suicides and jewelry heists issue from the front seat.
The victim, a voluptuous Russian woman, is trying to cover her broken window under a cheap umbrella in the pouring rain. Her single license plate reads NOGUILTY. When Officer G. runs the plate through the computer, it turns out its mate has been reported as stolen. This causes some consternation. She tells us it got swept off the car during Hurricane Sandy, but she never forfeited the matching plate because she didn’t want to lose her rights to the message.
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