When Gene Gentile was patrolling Manhattan's West 42nd Street, surely one of the sleaziest police beats in Christendom, he and his partner paid a visit to the Port Authority Bus Terminal one day to assist a young woman who had taken an overdose of drugs. At the hospital, she said she was hungry. So Gentile bought her a cup of coffee and a roll, and said, "Here. Enjoy it." The doctor, meanwhile, pronounced her fit to go home, and as she started putting on her coat, she removed an object from her bra, stuck it in Gentile's stomach and--giving him just enought time to shout, "Holy s---, Timmy, it's a gun!"--pulled the trigger.
The gun didn't fire, not just then. But after the woman had been arrested, Gentile gave the weapon to a ballistics man for testing, and it went off on the first try. "And when it did," Gentile recalled later, "my stomach dropped to the floor."
This gun-toting female turned out to have a boyfriend who had shot a policeman in Brooklyn. She imagined that Gentile and his partner somehow knew about this, which they didn't. But the court sized her up as a psycho. Her punishment consisted of six months in Bellevue Hospital, for "observation."
Later, Gentile became a devotee of the bulletproof vest. He wore his vest religiously, even though it gave his upper body the profile of an overstuffed suitcase. "But I wouldn't want that to get publicized," he said. "If they know you've got a vest on, they'll shoot you in the head."
Gentile and his ex-partner Brian McMenamin are the heroes of "Police," an odd amalgam of pictures and transcribed oral history. They are heroes worth knowing: two fiercely loyal, ferociously energetic, born-and-bred New York City policemen who transcend all the stereotypes even as they richly live up to them.
A few years back, Gentile and McMenamin turned down a pay raise because it would have meant splitting up to become "training officers" for rookies coming into their precinct. They had come to an agreement, after all, on just the right moment to open fire if a Black Liberation Army soldier ever pointed a gun at one of them and ordered the other to yield his. There was no telling how a rookie might behave in those circumstances, and it hardly seemed worth a little extra pay to find out.
When McMenamin got divorced, he moved in with Gentile's family. "We're closer than husband and wife," said Gentile. "I know what he's about to do, he knows what I'm about to do."
The concerns that occupy Gentile and McMenamin in this book are the real stuff of police work--the stuff that, needless to say, almost never finds its way into the vast body of literature, film and video-babble on the subject. Policemen steal arrests from each other, trying not to cause offense by politely inquiring, "Do you want it?" They complain about the pay-comparability of firemen and sanitation men. And they worry about long waits for the medical examiner in hot hotel rooms occupied by decaying bodies.
Glory is a chancy proposition all around. After a terrorist threat, one of the partners recalls being assigned to guard duty in front of his precinct. While he was standing there, he smelled smoke. So he looked up, saw a nearby hotel in flames, ran inside and rescued an old man from certain death.
"Now I never did anything that I wanted a pat on the back for," he told the authors, "but what I'd just done is what you read about in the hero awards in The Daily News, and I wanted a pat on the back." But when he gave his account of what had happened, his sergeant told him: "Okay, don't worry about it. Nobody was looking for you. Go back on your post."
Alas, it's impossible to tell whether this happened to Gentile or McMenamin, just as it's impossible to say which of them offered the noblest line in the book: "Suppose Michaelangelo had to spend most of his time dealing with robbers and street bandits. How many statues, how many works of art would never have been created?" This is because the two officers' statements, which form virtually all the text, are thoroughly intermixed and unattributed.
The condescending implication here is that when you've heard one police officer, you've heard them all. And this is just one of a number of acts of consummate sloppiness committed by the editorial and graphic team that put "Police" together.
The book's other great failing is on the photographic end. Photographer Jaydie Putterman and free-lance writer Rosalynde Lesure (Putterman's wife) spent two weeks riding around with the team of Gentile and McMenamin, on the NYPD's understanding that they were engaged in the "photographic documentation of NYPD personnel, particularly in their normal activities and duties." Two weeks is not very much time, and the selection of pictures shows it.
Although there are a few highly-charged, evocative photographs of Gentile and McMenamin against a lurid midtown background, there are also pictures that seem to have been included only because they tickled the photographer's fancy, and one or two that show little beyond the surprise of passers-by upon sighting a long-haired, bearded photographer and a chic French writer in the back seat of a police car.