Richard Burt

2315 hours x 0750 hours, Noche Despacio

Jurisdiction: Manhattan, New York
Time: mid-1990s

The Night Watch by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton

2310 Hours. On a frigid February night, I left the warmth of my car and got cut in the face by 20-degree air. I talked to some 4 x 12 cops, all in NYPD dark blue turtlenecks under their duty jackets. Not too busy a night, they told me, all collars came from the SNEU[1].

2320 Hours.  Roll call, conducted by Sergeant Smith. Smitty had been on the force for over 20 years. He was a large person, not too tall and very wide. His turtleneck was shapeless and drooped under his chin. And he misplaced his reading glasses; his mispronunciation of our names was hilarious. My name was simple: Burt. I worked in sector George – King with my partner, Gonda. Smitty reminded us to drive safely and watch for ice.

2330 Hours. We dashed into the freezing night to our RMPs[2].

2345 Hours. I got a coffee for my partner and hot chocolate for myself. Sector 24 George – King was quiet. The drug dealers and their ilk had retreated into their subterranean hideouts. Gonda and I chatted over our steaming beverages. It was our first night back after a three-day swing; we had a lot catching up to do. We realized we had the same dilemma: our wives wanted us to take square dancing lessons – again. How can we avoid this torture? Gonda suggested I shoot him in the leg. “Don’t be stupid,” I said. “Your missus would shoot me in the head.”

0045 Hours. Dirty Dave, a local homeless skell, interrupted our banter. He was harmless and friendly. Gonda yelled, “Hey there, Dave, get your ass off the street and someplace warm.” Dave came over. He explained he was heading into the subway. Then he started to sing. We laughed the whole time.

0200 Hours. 10-10[3]. There was a call for help in sector 24 Henry. We raced over pronto. We all arrived at the same time. 24 Adam, 24 Charlie, and 24 John were also there. Then Smitty showed up, unexpectedly. He was annoyed that half the precinct had convened for such a menial job; at the same time, he was delighted to knock out all of his scratches.[4] As for the call, no one approached our RMPs. There was also no call back number. 24 Henry marked the job as 90X.[5]

0230 Hours to 0430 Hours. Two hours of boredom. The only noteworthy event was a drop in temperature.

0430 hours. Meal break. Gonda and I were still trying to conjure a way to escape square dancing. We came up with: 1) make an arrest and eat up a lot of time processing the collar; 2) get ourselves arrested. An arrest was unlikely; all the prostitutes, purse-snatchers, and muggers had clocked out for the night. As for getting ourselves arrested, we would be suspended (without pay) and incur legal fees. Exasperated with no other viable ideas, we realized were going to do-ci-do.

0530 Hours. Good news, bad news. After meal, the Smitty called. He said we had to transport two prisoners to Central Booking. Great: we would have a change in scenery. Terrible: both prisoners had hepatitis. That meant we had to keep the windows open on the vehicle for safety. Naturally, the prisoners complained about the cold. Then we had a flash: we did not want to catch hepatitis, or did we? How could one square dance with hepatitis? To appease the prisoners (we were compassionate cops after all) we buttoned up RMP. Gonda and I were convinced our scheme had worked. We cheerfully headed back to the Precinct. We were all smiles until we turned onto the block and noticed the huge bus[6] that advertised free flu and hepatitis shots. As it happened, the flu and hepatitis shots were mandatory.

0750 Hours. EOT.[7] As I was signing out, Smitty said, “Good thing you guys got those shots after moving those prisoners.” Gonda and I both said, dejectedly, “Yeah, good thing.” We left the building, sore from the shots, and lamented, “See you at square dancing.”

[1] Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit
[2] Radio Motor Patrol
[3] Possible crime
[4] Verification of assignments
[5] Unfounded
[6] ambulance
[7] End of Tour


About the writer:
Richard Burt was sworn in as a NYPD police officer on February 28, 1994, and retired in May, 2014. His first assignment was the 24th Precinct in Manhattan. After a brief assignment at the 19th Precinct, he transferred to the Intelligence Division at City Hall, plain clothes, executive protection. When a Brooklyn council member was assassinated on July 23, 2003, Officer Burt shot and killed the perpetrator. The next day he was promoted to detective. Richard finished his career in an anti-terrorist unit of the Intelligence Division. He now enjoys the scenery in upstate NY with his dog, Toffee.

Image:  Detail from “The Night Watch” p. 41, London Town, 1883. Cropped. London Town by Felix Leigh, illustrated by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton, 1883; London/New York: Marcus Ward & Co. Public domain.