This is a story about me-a policeman. Not a fireman or combat veteran. Just a policeman that tried to do the right thing by his victims in sexual assault cases. Hopefully it can serve as a lesson to those who need to balance their work and their home lives.
At 18 years old I became a New York State Correction Officer at the infamous Sing-Sing Prison. I was assigned to provide care, custody, and control over extremely violent hardened criminals. One of the men I guarded hung another man upside down and cut him in half with a chain saw. These were the type of criminals I came into contact with daily. I somehow managed to overcome my intense fear and do my job. I’m not sure how I did this-but I did for 2 ½ years.
At the age of 20 I joined the New York City Police Department which had been my long time goal. I was assigned to patrol the most dangerous precinct in Harlem. I was a good cop but by no means was I a hero like many of the men I worked with. The precinct I worked in encompassed less than one square mile and there had been 26 policeman who died in the line of duty in that tiny precinct. The precinct was nicknamed “The Tomb of Gloom.”
After several years on patrol in that precinct I was transferred to Manhattan North Narcotics where I became an undercover police officer. I was a “real” undercover officer. My name was taken out of the department’s computer. I no longer received the department magazine. If someone did a background check on me they would not find me on the employment rolls of the NYPD. I was off the grid. I found that I took to being an undercover very quickly. I was a good actor. I made hundreds of buys from several vials of crack to several kilos of cocaine and guns. I was at the top of my game. I tried to take the perspective of a drug buyer and a criminal. It all came crashing down on my last buy for a large amount of heroin. I was robbed at gunpoint and nearly killed. At that point I became anti-drug war. I was promoted to the elite Manhattan North Narcotics Major Case Unit whose primary purpose was to pursue Dominican and Columbian drug gangs. My heart was not in the work. I put in a transfer to the Manhattan Special Victims Squad in the Detective Division.
After 3 years as an undercover (and being promoted to Detective) I was finally transferred to the Manhattan Special Victims Squad where I was assigned to investigate all felony sex crimes, serial rape, sexual homicide, and child abuse. As soon as I arrived there I knew I had found my passion. One in which I could help actual victims and arrest real bad guys. My time as an undercover actually helped me in this assignment. I immediately found a good partner to work with and learn from and I read many old case files to ready myself for my upcoming investigations. I found myself investigating sexual psychopaths and hardened criminals who although they were human many would call them “monsters.” I spent all of my time searching for and arresting these criminals. I worked 500-600 hours of overtime per year. I was obsessed. I spent much of my off duty time researching sexual predators at the New York Academy of Medicine. I would print out papers and borrow books. Aside from my actual home and my office it seemed that the NY Academy of Medicine became my home. I was surrounded by medical doctors. Not a cop to be found. I then branched out and did some research at the Columbia Presbyterian Psychiatric Library where I copied and read on my own time. I applied the knowledge I gained to my work. There is no way to actually “get into the mind of a sexual predator” but there is a way to take their perspective and try to use it against them during an interview or even during a long investigation. I tried to think like these predators. It helped me investigate them and finally arrest them and it helped me immensely during interrogations. I gained many confessions from those I arrested. And I wouldn’t stand for a false confession. Not only is it morally wrong but it also allows the real offender to go on hurting victims. I was able to put away many terrible men for a very long time. This satisfied me.
All of these hours of study I put in actually worked. If I was interviewing a child rapist I put myself in their shoes and tried to take their perspective. I had to agree with the offender about some very terrible things. The thing is-they talked to me and opened up. One predator told me that a 4 year old girl had given him “those bedroom eyes.” I told him I knew what he meant. I said I had seen it myself. Another rapist told me that “no” means “yes.” I agreed with him. And I actually complimented a sexual psychopath on his methods and his ability to evade the police. I found myself agreeing with the egregious actions of a horrible sadistic rapist. Of course I was lying to them. But it allowed them to open up and give a full confession of the heinous crimes they had committed. And this meant it was less likely the victim would have to testify in a trial. I felt like I needed to take a shower after every interview. The terrible thoughts stayed in my mind. I treated every one of my victims as if they were my mother or father, sister or brother, and son or daughter. That gave me tremendous motivation to apprehend the actual offender instead of just anyone who might falsely confess. I wanted my cases to be legally rock solid so I always reviewed the legal bulletins and the updated criminal law.
By spending so much of my time to perfect my trade I distanced myself from my family. I was rarely home. I missed Christmas and most of the other holidays. I missed my kids’ birthdays. One day as I was pulling into my driveway I saw my son playing football with my neighbor. I felt sick to my stomach. It had finally dawned on me. I had betrayed my family by spending all my time learning about, interviewing, and arresting sexual predators. I had failed spectacularly as a family man and father. I failed my wife and children. I always thought that by not cheating on my wife I was such a great guy. But I had a mistress. It was the job. Specifically hunting sexual predators.
When I retired from the NYPD I missed the work. What I was left with was a mind full of all of those predator’s terrible thoughts. It was not as if I was going to act on the thoughts. It was just very disturbing. After I left the job is when everything I compartmentalized-the fear, the horrible things I had seen, acting like a criminal, the disgust at the types of crimes I investigated-started to hit me. I had nightmares and every time I read a story or watched the news there was always something there to remind me of the things I had seen. And those terrible thoughts were still there. They still are.
I would advise anyone against going into the law enforcement field. You cannot be a libertarian cop. But for those who do wish to investigate the heinous crimes I was assigned to I have a warning. Actually this warning applies to any profession. Make certain that you keep your home life and your work life separate. Spend time with your family. And don’t try to be perfect because no one is. And don’t do what I did. Although I was very successful I allowed those terrible thoughts into my head. It isn’t worth it.
I know because I live with a million terrible thoughts floating around my head.
John J. Baeza [send him mail] is a retired NYPD Detective who was assigned to the Manhattan Special Victims Squad where he investigated and reviewed approximately 1,000 case of rape, serial rape, sexual homicide, felony sexual assault, and child abuse cases. He became an expert in the above fields including the sub-specialty of false reports