The decline of my NYPD career started early with one stupid rookie move. My partner and I responded to a fender bender on Avenue A next to Tompkins Square park. I placed my police radio on the roof of the patrol car as I organized drivers’ licenses, registrations, and insurance forms I needed to fill out the vehicle accident report. I scratched out the forms and handed back each driver their information with a receipt they needed to obtain the accident number. I was distracted by my partner talking to me as I got back in the patrol car. We drove off.
A woman’s squeaky voice came over my partner’s radio saying, ‘Helloooo?’
Central replied, “Unit with a message?” She repeated, ‘Helloooo!’ My partner and I glanced at each other, then my eyes darted around the car. I felt at my belt.
My radio wasn’t in the car. I stopped the patrol car, hopped out to check the roof and confirmed my worst nightmare.
I left the radio on the roof. Now it’s gone. This woman was transmitting with my radio. There wasn’t a hole deep enough to bury myself in.
The woman that found the radio introduced herself as Raquel and immediately got very chatty. Thankfully, there was no way anyone could recharge our radios without a specialized charging dock, but the battery life on that radio had six hours left on it. I raced back to the spot where I took the report. Nothing!
Oh my God, she would not shut up. Cops were trying to talk with her and find out where she was. It didn’t work. Some supervisor came on and threatened her. She got furious and started cursing. Raquel had a very heavy “dis, dem, and dose” Brooklyn accent. My partner turned to me, smiled and said, “She sounds like Cindy Lauper.” He saw the look on my face quickly looked straight ahead.
Raquel slurred her words a bit, but she was not drunk or high enough to give out information to identify her real name or location. She made the most of her ability to speak to the entire NYPD working that shift. Raquel started switching channels and introducing herself to cops in Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Every time a cop interrupted her or told her to get off the air, she would yell, “Bad cop, no donut!” She must have screamed that into the radio a hundred times during her broadcast.
I felt the blood rush from my face several times. It was the first time in my life I understood what being mortified meant. I thought about reporting my lost radio and accepting my fate, but my partner kept telling me, “JB, were gonna find Raquel and the radio, don’t worry, we got this.”
Raquel was nice enough to allow central dispatch to assign jobs to sector cars, but as soon as there was some radio silence, she would press the key and start talking again. After three hours of talking about herself, she came up with some limericks. One began with, “I met a New York cop in Nantucket…”and it only got nastier from there. She even made the limericks rhyme while freestyling. She was clearly not as dimwitted as I first thought. Thousands of cops listened to her performance that night.
It’s funny how pop songs can become deeply profound when you’re under extreme duress. As we drove to the 9th precinct to turn myself in, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car was on the radio. “You got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere…”
In route to the station, my partner was switching channels on his police radio and using some code to speak with another officer. It was our union delegate—he met me on the steps of the precinct.
“JB, Don’t say a word until I tell you to speak, understand?”
“Lost radio: You were running down the street after a suspected drug dealer when the radio flew from your belt and slid into a crowd of people. You gave up the pursuit of the perp and tried to recover the radio, but a canvass of the area proved unsuccessful. Understand?”
“I can’t do that. There isn’t a single witness to any of that. Internal Affairs will pick it apart.”
“JB, don’t say a word until the union lawyer gets here.”
“I don’t need a lawyer. I made a careless mistake: I left the radio on the roof of the car and drove off.”
“Oh, I beg to differ, you have a woman out there that sounds like Joe Pesi’s sister broadcasting a live radio show to the entire NYPD for the last few hours. This isn’t gonna end well for you.”
“I know. Thank you. I’m going in to speak with the Lieutenant.”
As Raquel’s voice echoed through the precinct reception area, the desk officer had his back turned to me while chatting with a police officer. The lieutenant turned, took one look at my face, and announced to the officers milling about the desk area, “Do we have a winner?” I nodded.
The next day I was called into the Captain’s office. He said to me, “JB, the chief of patrol called me this morning and asked the name of the ‘dilettante cop whose carelessness allowed Radio Raquel to broadcast her own talk show.’”
“That would be me sir.”
“The chief ordered me to issue you a command discipline which includes forfeiting ten vacation days. He also told me to tell you, ‘Bad cop! No donut!’”
To this day, I am the anecdotal story taught to police recruits at the academy about officer awareness.