The Precinct With the “Sixth Sense”

By E.W. Count

Sixth Pct. Police Officer Petee Kobel (center) pats down a robbery suspect while his partner P.O. Mike Walsh stands by. In background, P.O. PAt Golden pats down another robbery suspect while P.O. Jim Damante watches alertly.

“It’s not every precinct that you see things like that,” Sixth Pct. P.O. Jimmy Botte says.

What Botte has in mind isn’t the Washington Square Arch or the Carmine St. Pool (Going for a dip? ‘”You must bring your gun to the pool,” explains another cop for the benefit of a visitor). Botte isn’t talking about the Cabaret Squad, or the Market Car that controls the transvestite hookers who traffic in robbery as well as sex, and not about Chumley’s bar, the onetime speakeasy with the revolving false wall. . . .

Botte’s comment is not about the purse-snatch victim who lodged a complaint, the story goes, against the officer who recovered her bag. Not about the bulletin board near the desk, full of recent letters from area residents complimenting precinct cops. Nor even about the notorious Joel Steinberg affair that intensified the limelight in which this Greenwich Village command perennially basks.

What the officer is referring to at this moment just prior to a summer 4×12 tour, is a colorful exhibit- properly speaking, the Law Enforcement Display – that lines two walls of the Sixth Pet. muster room. Well stocked with, but not limited to. Sixth Pet. memorabilia, this museum-quality collection features patches, badges, hats, hat devices, and even uniforms from 34 foreign commands and 50 states. All serving to acknowledge, according to the dedication program, “the fraternal bond among police officers around the world.”

The display has just been ceremoniously dedicated on this rainy afternoon, with enthusiastic remarks by Manhattan South Assistant Chief of Patrol Thomas P. Walsh, and in the presence of several other headquarters brass. Not to mention C.O. Inspector Charles Campisi.

Officer Botte calls the collection “a great morale booster, something to brag about to other cops: This is ours.” Officers from other precincts are in fact frequent visitors because the Sixth has another distinction: a parking lot with gas.

But local cops are not the whole story. Like Greenwich Village itself, the West 10th St. house also plays host to far-flung tourists – a general from the Republic of China has been in; so has the Russian boxing team; and an English Bobby who stayed so long everyone began to think the City might put him on the payroll.

Chief Walsh, all smiles, has admired not only the exhibit but the smart rows of cops in front of him: “I always tell the kids in my neighborhood, the Sixth is a place were you learn to be a cop. A great place to work.”

Manhattan South PBA Trustee Frank Toscano, who came to the Sixth back in the late Sixties when it was still on Charles Street, has told the troops, “As the years go by, you’re gonna realize what a great command this is.”

The formalities over, everyone mills around, munching lasagna and feeling house-proud. P.O. Robert Crespi tells a visitor how the law enforcement collection grew. Vacationing cops brought back a hat here, a patch there, Crespi says, and in time the decision was made to replace the standard muster room maps with the show.

Part of the Law Enforcement Display that lines two walls of the mustering room at the 6th Pct.
Part of the Law Enforcement Display that lines two walls of the muster room at the 6th Pct.

A merchant donated display cases, which were cleaned and wired by some “Raiders of the Lost Arch” (the nickname emblazoned on the Sixth sweatshirt). The cases boast a prize pair of 1920s stationhouse lanterns, one red and one green, that someone found in an obscure basement locker. Also the vintage NYPD black leather jacket, replete with nametag spelling out Guiney in Gaelic, courtesy of P.O. Jean Guiney’s dad, the celebrated Crime Scene Unit lieutenant.

Plaques and framed newspaper clippings chronicle important moments in the life of the Sixth. A 1975 front page headlines the tragic news of P.O. Joseph Garda, felled by a robbery suspect – but not before he himself got off a shot that killed the robber. A photo caption dated 1950 identifies Officer “Jimbo” Fleming, who “poured shots after the bandits as they fled in a car.”

Fleming, recently retired for medical reasons, is on hand for the dedication. ‘Talk about relics!” someone says. “Any cop in the city with at least five years on the job is gonna ask you, ‘Hey, is Jimbo still there?’” Fleming is credited with 1,000 career arrests. “The real life,” Fleming says ruefully, “is out in the street. Now I’m not doing anything.”

Six-year Sixth Pct. veteran Jimmy Botte defines house pride his own way: “Ain’t goin’ nowhere.” He grins. The words are Botte’s – but hang by the desk for a while, catch a ride in a radio car or with anti-crime and almost everyone echoes the sentiment.

A lot of credit for the good feeling, people say, goes to the precinct club run by Community Affairs Officer and PBA Delegate Mike Singer.

“The parties are always good,” says A/C Officer Les Staubitz, “and so are the precinct picnics – any function. He does a great job.”

A precinct with a sense of history has no identity problems; the Sixth knows what the Sixth is – and so, apparently, do the perps. At the desk shortly before Sgt. Michael Pappas turns out the late tour on a muggy August night, an arrest is being processed and the formalities are quickly completed. But before escorting his prisoner out the door, the officer coaches him: “Say goodnight.”

Brief, startled pause, followed by polite compliance.

“We don’t want them to go away mad,” the fly sergeant nods, “just go away.” A fly boss, just passing through but right in sync with the spirit of the Sixth.

Recent headlines trumpeted a plague of transvestite hookers, as many as 50 a night, spreading from Washington Street in the meat market section on the extreme west side of the precinct into nearby quiet residential streets – to the dismay, naturally, of residents. Some cops maintain the plague descended from Midtown South when Operation Take Back was in effect there last year.

“We don’t have that condition anymore,” points out Mike Singer. The remedy was the assignment of a Market Car. To guard against any recurrence, the Market Car still runs on midnights whenever possible, making collars, or others on the tour cruise over there and chase out the “girls” and their Johns.

During one midnight tour, P.O.s Pete Kobel and Mike Walsh make a couple of passes through the market area. On the way over, they describe an m.o.: The pross take the Johns to a tractor trailer parking lot, two guys will be waiting there – under a trailer sometimes – to rob the John.

The original 6th Pct. stationhouse on Charles Street, which is now a condominium.
The original 6th Pct. stationhouse on Charles Street, which is now a condominium.

The cops pull up behind a car parked in a condom-strewn lot at Horatio and Washington. The “girl” they flush out has New York’s slimmest hips, encased in a tiny black leather skirt. She wears a matching leather bra and the latest petite, feedbag-style purse.

IDs are checked. “Get out of the neighborhood,” Walsh orders. “You don’t belong here.”

“He’s gonna give me a ride home,” the pross protests.

“No, he changed his mind.”

She departs and the cop turns to her John: “You’re gonna come down with some disease. Get in the car, go back to Brooklyn.” The parking lot owner, Walsh says, keeps complaining about the trespassers.

Later on, the uniformed partners drive this way again, “Pull up your pants,” Kobel tells another “girl,” who’s getting out of the car with her shorts unzipped. The John’s ID says he is Howard. “Put your hands on the trunk,” he is ordered. Howard claims he never knew he was with another man.

“You do now, though. Right? You married?”

“Separated.” The voice is timid.

Walsh shines his flashlight in the car for the second time. “I saw a car seat in the back for a little kid.”

Driving farther west, all the way to the highway and the piers, Walsh gets a chance to air his Village lore. Here’s the landmark Jane West Hotel, where the survivors from the Titanic stayed; there’s Westbeth, now an artists’ colony, but once home to the labs where the atom bomb was planned. Next to a pier are the “salt mines,” where Sanitation keeps the salt used on streets in the winter.

Kobel recalls the fatal aftermath of a dance contest on the pier. One guy was “jealous, kept botherin’ the other, chasin’ him up Christopher Street. Finally, [the one being chased] had had just about enough – took out a pair of scissors and stabbed the other one in the chest.”

Anti-Crime Officers Pat Golden and Jim Damante are doing the same Friday-into-Saturday tour. Soon after coming on, the A/C team resolves a dispute in the market area. In this same neighborhood, at Little West 12th and West Streets, a personal loan that went sour ended in murder late last year.

In probably the most memorable event in their Sixth Precinct time (seven years for Golden, six for Damante), “We recovered the spent shells and a round,” says the soft-spoken Golden. “We got the witness.” The lender, instead of getting his money back, got shot in the head. Twice. “A guy who was making a delivery in the market was sitting in a truck and he witnessed the whole thing. The detectives got a positive identification.”

The partners say the Sixth is changing, that it’s quieter this year than last. The house used to handle 25 to 30 calls a night per car; then last fall, the precinct got 80 new officers – lots of foot posts. Golden and Damante agree: “The neighborhood’s improved.”

For a Friday night, this night is quiet, that’s sure. Not like the previous night when they nailed a robbery suspect packing a gun by the Carmine Street Pool.

“A couple got robbed a few blocks away and they gave a description of three male Hispanics. We came through the area, saw three who fit. We stopped ‘em – one of the kids had a gun on him. Old-fashioned .45, long barrel.”

P.O. Kobel holds flashlight while P.O. Walsh checks prostitute patrons ID
P.O. Kobel holds flashlight while P.O. Walsh checks prostitute patron’s ID

The night before that – a Wednesday – was hopping, too. They made a nice burglary collar at 225 West 11th St. “Individual climbed in a window, filled up a couple of bags – TV, stereo – and got out. Then he wanted to go back inside to get something to eat. A neighbor heard him the second time. We came by and found him hiding under a table. He also stole their t-shirts. We asked him why and he said, ‘Look at my t-shirt – it’s filthy.’”

Famished and ill-clad burglars notwithstanding, the Village certainly is quieter lately. Golden drives by Washington Square Park “When I first got here, it was so busy in the park So many people.” Now the park closes at midnight – “There’s nobody. Its nice.”

However, a few stragglers on a bench still do need to be informed that the park’s closed. And you can still roll up on the odd riff-raff urinating in the fountain basin. Golden’s voice can reach a yell after all: “Get outta here!”

When the park closes, the homeless have to be removed. P.O. Mark Whalen was doing a late tour a few weeks back with his partner, Mike Oldmixon, when Whalen tried to wake one of the homeless. The guy wouldn’t budge. The cop went to push him and ended up injuring his back.

So instead of riding with Mike, on this night Whalen is playing house mouse, relating an unusual civilian complaint story. The purse-snatch victim, typical of many liberal-minded Sixth residents, was sophisticated about the system. Whalen says she thanked the cop for retrieving her bag, but told him, “I’m gonna have to give you one – you used excessive force in apprehending the person.”

Washington Square Park is the scene of many a funny incident, just ask the Raiders of the Lost Arch. “You laugh at a lotta stuff,” admits Oldmixon’s recorder for this tour, P.O. Joan Santangelo. She puzzles over the incomplete radio report of a man seen in the park vicnity. “What’s he doing. Central?”

“He’s touching himself. K.”

Oldmixon is reminded of the time he came upon a couple on a park bench. “Well, they were doing their thing. She was on the bench, he was standin’ up. It was pouring out! Pouring, right? They didn’t care. Havin’ a good ol’ time – right in Washington Square Park.”

Golden and Damante’s unmarked car rolls past the majestic Washington Square arch, symbol of Greenwich Village and of the Precinct. “Nice scenery from the top,” Golden says. “You can walk up inside, there’s a staircase. There’s a perch up there and you can see the whole Village.”

A colorful scene, he says, and “a great place to work.”