By Judy Berman
Minutes after an undercover police officer made a drug buy from the back window of a house, I heard him over the police radio.
“It’s a go. There are three people in there.”
Then, six police officers, dressed in black, ran down a city street and around the corner.
With guns drawn and two mighty whacks with a battering ram, they knocked down the door and ran in.
The suspect tossed $350 and 12 baggies of crack cocaine out the window. Investigators said the suspect had 11 baggies on him, and he’d just sold three.
It was like the movies. Only, this time: no guns blazing or suspects jumping out of windows to avoid arrest.
This is from the way-back files when I was a cops reporter in Utica, New York.
It was a rare behind-the-scenes look for me at what goes down during a drug raid. Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo gave the go-ahead to me and to one of the Observer-Dispatch’s photographers to join the investigators.
We wanted to be in on the action from the get-go. But they were overly cautious – and with good reason. What if something happened?
“You never know what’s behind that door,” said Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, the department’s senior investigator of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).
Liability concerns and safety are the reasons why many police agencies hesitate to grant this kind of access to reporters and photographers.
I told the police chief that a story I was working on – about 7 ½ years of drug arrests by SIU – would look a lot better if it was tied to a drug arrest – with me and a photographer along.
Rotundo was a savvy man. He agreed.
Once inside, the investigator, who wore a Stetson, smoked a huge cigar as he searched for evidence. He wore plastic gloves because “these places aren’t the cleanest,” and to protect himself if one of the suspects was bleeding.
He’s hearing nothing but polite denials and excuses from one of the women in the house.
“No, officer, I just came here to see my cousin, Angel,” she claimed.
The officer disagrees.
“You’ve been seen coming to this drug house several times and were inside when a drug buy was just made,” he said.
Then, he starts singing “Angel in the Morning.”
In the kitchen, there’s a box of baking soda on the counter. A cigarette butt is out in the drain.
I gingerly open a fridge door by using my pen on the handle until one of the investigators gives me plastic gloves. Inside, there’s only a can of Sprite.
Other than salt-and-pepper shakers, the cupboards are bare.
After the raid, Deputy Chief Nick Yagey joked that I was a con artist and had hoodwinked investigators into letting us go inside the drug house.
“You weren’t supposed to take any photos identifying SIU members,” he said.
Yagey claimed he could ID one who was bent over searching thru a couch for evidence.
“You couldn’t pick that face out of a crowd,” I challenged, knowing that SIU had vetted the photos before publication so no undercover officer was put in jeopardy.
“His butt, maybe,” I laughed.
Fortunately, Yagey was laughing, too, when I left his office a few minutes later.
Kudos to the police officers in the Utica Police Department who often assured my safe passage as a cops reporter at some very dicey scenes – especially Utica Police Chief Benny Rotundo, who died in 2010, and Sgt. Angelo Partipelo, who died in 2001.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Movie Trailer: The French Connection (1971) – Undercover cop Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in his famous high speed chase in pursuit of a criminal – great film. But this is reel life – not real life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP_7ZopT6oM
Music Video: Bad Boys (1992) by Inner Circle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVBB2upbVys&feature=kp
Video: Dragnet (1951) – TV show starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday. The just-the-facts ma’am detective. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj-qhIGTXdU
Main Photo: Drug Raid – in Dudley, United Kingdom – taken Feb. 22, 2013 by West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3a/Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg/640px-Day_53_-_Early_morning_drugs_raid_in_Dudley_%288497719406%29.jpg
Photo: Utica Drug Raid – Sgt. Angelo Partipelo and me (Judy Manzer Berman) at the scene of a drug bust in Utica, New York.