This weekend we recommend a book by legendary NYPD Detective Jim O’Neil (written with Mel Fazzino). The book, “NYPD The Violent Years,” is a trip through the violence and chaos that typified New York City from the late 1960’s and through the 1980’s. Not pretty… but pretty damned interesting.
The author worked in two of the busiest precincts in the city, the seven-three and the three-two, in their most turbulent times. His investigations included the case against Harlem drug kingpin Nicky Barnes, and assisting on the case against Barnes’ competitor, Frank Lucas (portrayed in the film “American Gangster”).
Barnes was so well-known at the time, that… well, see below.
(Barnes, on the cover of the NY Times magazine, 1977)
O’Neil also made cases against the Black Liberation Army, a violent group very active at the time, and worked on the bank robbery portrayed in “Dog Day Afternoon” (and if you haven’t seen that movie… oh my. Really?).
O’Neil operated in a time where violence and corruption were too often commonplace in policing. He (literally) patrols the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem with a double-barrel shotgun. The book pulls no punches (no pun intended) on some of the violence he was a part of. He was no saint, but he makes it clear he has no use for corrupt cops. He tells it like it was and has no regrets.
However, to us the most interesting thing about the book is O’Neil’s portrayal of routine detective work. Today, even a good detective does a significant part of his work at a desk, doing computer checks, video review, etc. But it is still the best detectives that get out in the street and pound the proverbial pavement.
O’Neil shows how this was done, back in the day. He is out in bars, meeting informants. He is flipping perps and looking the other way sometimes to gain cooperation. He gets to know the people in his neighborhood both good and bad. Surveillances and canvasses are woven through the storyline of his career. And he is not sitting behind a desk.
There was a saying in the Detective Bureau: “You can’t solve a case sitting behind your desk.” It is not as true as it once was, but O’Neil shows us how effective a great detective can be when he gets himself up and out the door. So if you work in policing… this is a must-read.
When O’Neil retired he expresses his sadness and wishes he could do it all over again. We felt the same way when we got to the end of this book.
Meanwhile… enjoy the weekend! And we’ll see you Monday morning.