Rookies

07.03.13

NYPD’s New Cops Sworn In at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center

As they took their oaths Tuesday, nearly 800 new officers set out to join the force that ended New York’s days as a treacherous urban jungle. But the new gilded city is still a place where cops face death every day.

The white gloves flew like a huge flock of doves up toward the ceiling of Brooklyn’s cavernous new arena and then fluttered softly down onto the 781 freshly sworn-in cops who had just thrown them overhead in celebration.

Over the past decade, the predecessors of these newest graduates of the NYPD academy had turned New York into the safest big city in America. The Barclays Center where these rookies had just taken the oath of office had been built only after the cops before them had transformed Brooklyn from a blood-spattered free-fire zone into the realm of yuppies and hipsters.

Absent the smarter tactics and strategies of the NYPD, the scruffier end of Williamsburg would have been a more suitable setting for a crime show than for Girls. And the more apt term for young refugees from the suburbs to the borough’s tougher realms would be victims.

“With safety and security, everything is possible,” Mayor Bloomberg told the graduates. “Without it, nothing is.”

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly also spoke, noting that the graduates represent 49 countries and speak more than 40 languages, but share a common mission.

“You want to make a difference,” he said. He described how the city had been made so remarkably different and how that difference will become even more pronounced. “Day by day, officer by officer, action by action.”

Kelly noted that the graduates include the daughter of NYPD Lt. Frederico Narvaez, who was shot to death 16 years ago in Brooklyn while coming to the aid of a woman who had rushed up to his car and pleaded for protection from an armed stalker. Police Officer Katrina Narvaez, who was 9 years old at the time, has said that one of her fondest memories was of her father taking her to Coney Island, buying her a stuffed toy baby dolphin at the aquarium that she then lost on the Cyclone roller coaster. He of course bought her a new one, which she still treasures. She was now wearing an equally prized memento on the chest of her dress uniform.

“His shield,” Kelly noted.

But the daughter did not have her father standing proudly beside her for photos, as so many other graduates did, along with their mothers and siblings and other family outside the Barclays Center after the ceremony.

She herself will now be among those who rush into harm’s way for the sake of others.

One cop who graduated from the academy eight years ago and proved both astonishingly lucky and profoundly decent was Kevin Brennan. He and two other members of Brooklyn North Anti-Crime had just set out from the 90th Precinct stationhouse in hipster Williamsburg on the night of January 31, 2012, when they heard a radio report of shots fired a short distance away.

The cops pulled up to the scene and saw a young man hop over a short iron fence and begin running. Brennan was in the passenger seat as the cop at the wheel drove just on the other side of the fence, parallel to the fleeing young man.

He fell on top of the young man. He remembered that just before he lost consciousness he heard the young man say: “Fuck you! Die!”

“I observed a black firearm in his right hand and he was pointing it at me,” Brennan subsequently testified in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Brennan would recall the cop at the wheel yelling for him to fire.

“He was going, ‘Shoot him, Kev, shoot him,’” Brennan testified.

“Did you fire?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” Brennan said.

“Why not?” the prosecutor asked.

Even in the heat of a chase and in the face of mortal danger, Brennan had retained the clarity to reason that shouts and the squealing of tires were sure to have brought people to the windows of the housing project building directly in the line of fire. And here his decency manifested itself.

“If I shot at him and I missed, I didn’t want to shoot an innocent person,” Brennan told the court.

The young man ran on into the building. Brennan figured he would either go up the stairs or out the back. Brennan guessed the latter.

“I just took a chance,” Brennan said from the witness stand.

Brennan circled around the back to see the young man bolt out the rear door and dash across a basketball court toward the back of the next building. “It was the same man, same clothing, same gun.”

The jury heard a recording of Brennan radioing to his partners, “He’s coming out the back, he’s coming out the back!” The transmission also recorded the cop shouting to the young man, “Police! Don’t move! Get down on the ground!”

The young man just kept running. Brennan said that as he continued chase the man, he was listening for the sound that he had learned in other pursuits often comes when a gun is tossed away and hits the pavement.

“It makes a clinking noise,” he testified.

No clinking noise came as the young man dashed on into the next building and up a rear stairway. Brennan was right behind him and saw the young man lose his footing as he reached the top step.

“I figured it was kind of my best chance,” Brennan said.

“Your best chance to what?” the prosecutor asked.

“To tackle him,” Brennan replied. “I put my head down to do like a football tackle. I remember hitting him, feeling the shot go off.”

“When you heard the shot go off, what, if anything did you feel?” the prosecutor asked.

“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Brennan said. “I remember hearing it go off. I remember feeling it.”

“Where did you feel it?” the prosecutor asked.

“The back of my head,” Brennan said. “I remember my body like shaking.”

He fell on top of the young man. He remembered that just before he lost consciousness he heard the young man say something.

“Fuck you! Die!”

Brennan was not asked about his last thoughts before the darkness closed in. But if he had been he would had said that he could only think that his daughter, Maeve, was just turning six weeks and more than anything else he wanted to see her again. He told the court that he regained consciousness as fellow cops were carrying him from the building.

Video screenshot

Brennan's harrowing incident was captured on the building's security cameras.

“I couldn’t see very much at the time, but I could hear the helicopters above with the lights coming down,” he testified. “They put me in the back of the ambulance. I was conscious for most of the ride.”

He was soon at Bellevue Hospital Center.

“The bullet was removed from the back of my head,” he reported. “Most of the bullet.”

Some bullet fragments remained in his head, but he survived, suffering some damage to his upper spinal cord and some loss of vision in his left eye. He could have just settled back with a disability pension, but he pushed himself through grueling physical therapy and was able by force of will to return to duty, subsequently promoted to sergeant. The jury did not hear that he had returned to the scene of the shooting with prosecutors to prepare for the trial and had ended up joining his partner in arresting two suspected robbers and taking a loaded 9-mm automatic off one of them.

After his testimony, Brennan watched from the stand as the prosecution played surveillance camera footage of the shooting. The accused gunman, 23-year-old Luis Ortiz, watched blank-faced from the defendant’s table, his left leg jiggling. The prosecution showed Brennan a still photo.

“It’s the defendant shooting me,” Brennan said.

His wife, Janet Brennan, watched from the second row of the spectator benches in the 21st floor courtroom. She was there through the whole three-week trial, in the same seat yet again on Tuesday, during the final summations. She had to listen to the defense attorney John Burke argue that her husband, and his fellow cops had concocted a case against his client.

“A script,” Burke said.

On Wednesday morning, the judge will charge the jury, which will then retire to reach its verdict. The rookies who graduated at the Barclays Center a dozen blocks from the courthouse will be in their second day as police officers. They include 21-year-old Police Officer Samantha Raffo, who had stood with her family for a post graduation photo the day before. She looked impossibly young, younger than those characters in Girls who are forever struggling to find themselves in the new Brooklyn. Her dress uniform had not stopped a female relative from giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, lipstick!” Raffo said.

She wiped away the lipstick and stood sparkly-eyed in a city that the ill-fated Frederico Narvaez and the amazingly fortunate Kevin Brennan and thousands of other cops transformed action by action.

“They say it’s much safer over here,” she said.

She described with two words how she felt as she embarked on a life of risking all with the hope of making a difference, of maybe jumping out to help a woman and suddenly facing a gunman or maybe refraining from shooting for fear of hitting an innocent only to end up getting shot.

“Very excited,” she said.