October 28, 2007
Copping an attitudeBy Bob Weir
His name was Frank Danko, and he never should have been a police officer. How he was able to pass the psychological testing portion of the New York City screening process, I'll never know. It wouldn't take a normal person more than 5 minutes to conclude that Danko was several fries short of a Happy Meal. Yet, this wacky, antisocial misfit was wearing a uniform, carrying a gun and dealing with the public as a representative of the law.
My first encounter with Danko occurred after I was transferred from Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy area to a precinct in Queens. It was my first night at the new location and I was perusing the roll call sheet on the bulletin board at the station house as I prepared for a midnight to 8am shift. When I saw that I was partnered in a radio car with a cop named Danko, I asked one of the officers to point him out. The cop looked at me with a smirk and said, "You got Danko tonight? Good luck!" Well, during my years in the high crime area of Brooklyn, I had dealt with cops who had reputations for being difficult to work with.
Sometimes it was because they were too free with their nightsticks, and other times because they were always looking to supplement their salaries with freebies. The Danko experience would be very different. I didn't get to meet him until I went outside the building to find the car we were assigned to. He was already sitting in the passenger seat as I opened the driver's side door. "Hi, I'm Bob Weir," I said, extending my hand to shake. "Yeah, I can read the roster," he replied gruffly, paying no attention to my overture. Eyeing him curiously, I began driving toward our assigned sector. He was staring straight ahead, motionless. I figured the guy must be having a bad day, but I began to think about what the other cop had said.
Within minutes, as I stopped the car at a red light, a middle-aged man pulled up alongside Danko's door and rolled down his window.
"Excuse me officer," he said, "can you tell me how to get to the Cross Island Parkway?"
My partner turned slowly toward the man and said,
"What the (expletive) do I look like, a map?" The questioner was no more startled than I was as we both stared incredulously at the man in uniform.
"Officer, what did you say?" the man gasped. The realization suddenly hit me that I was working with a psycho.
"Sir, please pull your car over to the side and I'll give you the directions you need," I said, trying to recover from this public relations disaster.
Still staring in disbelief, the driver complied and I pulled the cruiser behind him. Danko was back to staring straight ahead as if nothing happened. "Stay here!" I said sternly as I left the vehicle and approached the stunned civilian.
"Please excuse my partner," I said, thinking as fast as I could. "He just had a death in his family and he's not handling it well," I lied.
"Well, I'm sorry for him," the man replied, "but he should not be dealing with the public while he's in that state of mind."
After a bit more cajoling on my part, I directed the man toward his destination and I went back to my car.
"What exactly is your problem, man?" I said indignantly.
He turned toward me and his face became a grotesque mask. For a moment, I thought his head was going to do a 360 and he'd be vomiting green slime at me, ala The Exorcist.
"I don't like people asking me stupid questions," he barked and turned back to staring through the front window.
I knew there was only a skeleton crew working that night, so I decided to tough it out. It became the longest night of my life. I stayed mostly on the side streets and didn't let him drive at all. At the end of the tour, I told the clerical office not to pair me with him again. They were not surprised. I learned later that Danko was a reformed alcoholic, a condition that made him practically invulnerable to punishment in a department with a fair share of boozers. Ultimately, a new captain was assigned and soon, Danko was history. Maybe the captain asked him where the clerical office was.
Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.