Review: Bad Cop

Life as one of NYPD's not-so-finest
By AMY FINCH  |  June 5, 2009

Title a book Bad Cop and brain-basher types like Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta spring to mind. Decorate it with a photo of a doughnut and the declaration "Duty called. I couldn't find the phone." and you have the true slant of Paul Bacon's new book. In his three years with the NYPD, Bacon's rottenness had nothing to do with bribes and the lawless letting of blood. As a cop he was bad because his idealism and relentless sense of fairness took on a fart-in-church quality in Harlem's 32nd Precinct. After 9/11, Bacon — who had been working as a writer for a "major on-line directory" of Web sites — determined that NYC needed "protection," and that he should be a protector. An unlikely one, given that he hates guns, believes pot should be legal, and questions the semantics of "shoot to stop" versus "shoot to kill."

Bad Cop is very funny — not surprising, since Bacon is a humor writer and cartoonist for McSweeney's, Mother Jones, and Salon. He is self-effacing and amenable to exposing the ludicrousness of his struggle — a sincere one, of course — to achieve cop greatness. On his debut patrolling "his" block, he figures, "Rather than poking around for trouble, I would deter it by giving off wholesome law-and-order vibrations." Upon witnessing a hand-to-hand drug transaction, he walks nervously toward the transactors. What's going through his head? "I assumed they were armed and dangerous, given their line of work. I was outnumbered, so I decided to just approach them, tactfully state my case, and let them go with a warning." The vibrations must've worked, because they walk off before Officer Bacon can open his mouth.

Our hero is smart enough to be made company sergeant at the police academy but too diffident for his fellow recruits to give a damn. Just before graduation, they get rambunctious and laugh at his order to "cut it out!" A recruit tells him he's worse than his predecessor, Moran. Bacon: "Moran was lazy. I'm just . . . " Recruit: "Spineless?" Bacon: "I was going to say 'laissez-faire.' I'm into quiet leadership. You know, leading by example. I'm not comfortable always telling people what to do. . . . I think we should be peacemakers more than head busters."

Three years in, Bacon can't delude himself anymore. After locking himself in a cruiser and admitting that he wishes a deranged perpetrator would hit her head and knock herself out, he has to agree with the officer who proclaimed him a danger to himself and others. He's a congenital klutz, and though he's finally developing the carapace required by the NYPD, the job is making him physically and psychically sick. It's time to turn in his " gleaming silver hand cannon" (a/k/a his Smith & Wesson).

Bacon's current beat is far from 125th Street: he lives in Hawaii, where he gives tourists surfing lessons. Via e-mail, he answered a couple of questions.

How did his NYPD stint change his ideas about cops? "I used to think that all cops were small-minded people on power trips. Now I know how hard their jobs are, and I understand why they seem to be at odds with the general population."

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