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Close Pursuit: A Week in the Life of an NYPD Homicide Cop by Carsten Stroud (Bantam: $17.95; 288 pp.)

April 05, 1987|Joseph D. McNamara | McNamara rose to the rank of deputy inspector in the NYPD and has been police chief in San Jose since 1976. His thriller "Fatal Command" (Arbor House) is published this month

In "Close Pursuit," Carsten Stroud describes a week with alcoholic homicide cops who talk about niggers, spics, fag brass and liberals while they slap around suspects and kick in doors. Stroud views them as heroes in America's war on crime and writes romantically about them with more sympathy than they deserve.

Yet "Close Pursuit" moves with a pace that will satisfy readers hungry for the gore and sad stories of New York's dark side. Homicide Detective Edward Xavier Kennedy is followed as he investigates a rape homicide, the stabbing of an out-of-town John and a murder in which the victim is pushed in front of a subway train. Along the way, he attends an autopsy in which Stroud gives us a slice-by-slice description.

Kennedy and his redneck, trigger-happy partner cope with their grim dreams of old cases by downing boilermakers in 3rd Avenue cop bars. And Kennedy, who broods in dark churches and seems to have little interest in women, goes to pieces when his cat disappears from his dreary, lonely apartment.

Despite the stereotypes, the book provides a grimly fascinating picture of the dangerous polarization between blacks and whites both on the police force and on the streets. The young blacks and other minority suspects being hunted are frightening in the hopeless inevitability of their crime-filled lives. Almost equally discouraging is the description of how deteriorating legal, correctional, educational and welfare bureaucracies fail to deal with New York's awesome problems.

The publisher tells us that Stroud has achieved the dream of many journalists--infiltrating the NYPD Detective Bureau. Alas, there's a price.

Patrick Murphy, New York's reform police commissioner during the Knapp Commission's exposure of police corruption, described the detective mystique, the myth that detectives' intuitive skills and canny street smarts were already solving many serious crimes and that if the brass and the courts would just get off detectives' backs would solve even more. In his book, "Commissioner," Murphy wrote that the incompetence, corruption and unprofessionalism of detectives was often ignored by New York reporters, who enjoyed barroom friendships with detectives, in return for great copy.

In "Close Pursuit," what Stroud presents as heroic detective work is actually evidence of ineptness and racial insensitivity resulting from the NYPD's detective bureau's resistance to reform. In one ominous incident (one of many), Kennedy and his partner try to arrest a suspect in a Harlem theater filled with black kids. The suspect escapes and the detectives almost cause a riot. During my years on patrol in Harlem, I saw similar cowboy tactics by detectives and plainclothes officers who failed to coordinate their activities with uniformed officers and got themselves and others hurt.

In addition, the investigative procedures described in the book show how far behind New York detectives are in adopting new technology. Computerized latent fingerprint systems and information systems that have routinely been elsewhere for more than 10 years are still lacking in New York.

Stroud faithfully presents the complaints of the detectives about minorities, the courts, the politicians, the Internal Affairs Unit investigators and the brass. Commissioner Ben Ward, the first black police commissioner, comes in for an extra share of venom. It seems to me that the book is weakened by its one-sided view on these issues, but I guess that's the way it goes when detectives from the Big Apple let you come along to "infiltrate them."

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