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Book Excerpt: 23rd Precinct: The Job

23rd Precinct: The Job

Written and Photographed by Arlene Schulman
Published by Soho Press

"Being a cop is a culture, it's a way of life. You did nothing before. You have no time for a fuckin' schedule. Your life is this job. You become the culture," insists Sergeant Charlie Columbo. "I can walk down the street in any neighborhood and people say 'Here comes a fuckin' pig.' A lot of young kids don't have what it takes to become a cop. I'm a cop. You live it, breathe it, you fuckin' bleed it. Intelligence is a rarity on this job. You need adrenaline and excitement. Once in a blue moon, you'll get it.

"There isn't a guy on this job with fuckin' time who doesn't need a psychiatrist. The Job doesn't want to recognize what happens to us." Sergeant Columbo pauses to light a cigarette. "Most cops are crazy. If you weren't when you come on, you become crazy. The first person through that door is me. No one's getting hurt except me. It's my responsibility. It's a combination of responsibility and worthlessness.

"I'm not going to let someone with three years (on the job) get killed, or someone with four kids. I know that if I go through the door first, that everyone behind me will be okay. On the job I've had a concussion and broke my leg twice. They can't fuckin' kill me. I'll die from smoking."

The 23rd Precinct stationhouse was built on 102nd Street between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue, in Manhattan, in the 1970s as a combination police station and firehouse. No matter how many times the cleaner sweeps, disinfects, and polishes, the place never looks clean. And when a group of junkies is brought in by Narcotics, the air becomes foul with body odor that permeates the first floor and foyer.

"Hey, we got a ripe one in here!" shouts the desk sergeant, who lights a cigar to counter the odor. Although smoking is technically forbidden inside a city building, no one complains, even cops with asthma.

A neatly dressed fiftyish Hispanic man in a gray suit, with too-long cuffs and a matching fedora, is standing at the complaint window, complaining that neighborhood kids stuck their tongues out at him. "Why don't you stick your tongue out at them?," suggests Officer Miranda Mays, raising her eyebrows.

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