Early in my rookie year, around 1986, I learned the importance of developing what we called “street eyes.“
It’s the ability to look out at a group of people who are walking along and to detect which among them might present a problem. Sometimes it’s the way they walk, their gait. Sometimes they are touching themselves in a somewhat unusual way, perhaps adjusting a gun in a shoulder holster or at their hip or behind their back. Perhaps they’re hitching up their belts in an unusual fashion. Maybe they’re leaning a little towards one side or another due to the weight of a gun.
Whatever these telltale signs are, one has to learn to read them correctly, one has to develop “street eyes,” as part of being alert in the urban environment, being “street-wise.”
In my rookie year I had a field training officer (FTO) who was a veteran cop, a big six-foot-two-inch Irishman. His first name was Al, and, instead of a nightstick, he carried a long ax handle [without the head, of course]. He was so large that the ax handle in his hands looked like the nightstick in my own.
It takes awhile to get used to the lingo, the jargon, of your fellow police officers. In the patrol car, you are listening to the police radio and perhaps to another radio as well, maybe a baseball game. If your windows are open, you’re also getting some of the babble from the street. Perhaps you have to develop “street ears” as well.
My field training officer and I were driving along the street, which was fairly crowded, and suddenly my FTO tells me to stop. He jumps out grabs a man from the crowd, pushing him against a building wall, frisks him and---sure enough---finds a pistol.
Very few people in New York City have the legal right to carry a concealed weapon, due to the strict gun-control laws sometimes called “the Sullivan laws.” This perpetrator was no exception. He was not legally entitled to carry. Naturally, we arrested him, without further incident.
I wondered that day whether I would ever develop street eyes, this ability to pick out quickly something that might be crucial to my own survival and to the survival of the people who depend on me.
It was perhaps five years later, when I was the trainer, the “dinosaur,” and I was training a rookie. Similarly, as we were driving along, I told the rookie to stop the patrol car, and I jumped out. I frisked the man after I had put him up against the wall, and I found a gun. As my trainer had told me, so I told my rookie, that in time he, too, would develop street eyes. I could have added that they might save his life.
You need that street-wise sense indoors as well as on the street. My partner and I were called to a domestic violence situation. These situations are among the most dangerous for police to handle. Too often, a woman will complain, rightly so, about abuse that she is getting from her man, and yet when you come and try to arrest him, suddenly she is giving you a hard time, perhaps even physically, perhaps dangerously.
Our own practice in these domestic dispute situations was to separate the two parties into two different rooms. In the case I’m going to describe, my partner took the husband into the bedroom, and I moved the wife from the kitchen into the adjoining living room. Kitchens are sometimes dangerous for police, because there are items there that can be used as weapons: knives, the occasional rolling pin, hot water, so we generally try to get the people involved out of the kitchen where these weapons of opportunity are too readily available.
I was questioning the woman in her living room while my partner questioned her husband in the bedroom, and the woman started shouting at her husband that he was lying about what had gone on. She became more and more angry. She got up and moved toward the couch from the chair that she was in, and I just got the feeling that she was going to do something that could be dangerous. I beat her to the couch and pulled the cushions aside, and sure enough there was a loaded gun. My street eyes quite possibly prevented a tragedy.
I thought to myself: I moved her from the kitchen to a “safer” room only to put her even closer to a hidden handgun. Well done, Golino, well done.
For these domestic calls you are often called on to be a psychologist, a lawyer or a doctor, perhaps a priest. They are among the most challenging of a policeman’s duties and they occur frequently.
THE SHIELD OF GOLD, by Lenny Golino and Douglas Winslow Cooper, was published in November 2012 by Outskirts Press, and is available from OP and from amazon.com. L.G. is the head of Gold Shield Elite Investigations, Inc., Newburgh, NY.
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