Norm Stamper

Author of To Protect and Serve:
How to Fix America’s Police

Selected Excerpts

On Norm’s rookie year: I loved it. Chasing calls, writing tickets, wrestling drunks, pinching the occasional burglar or stickup man…letting the bad guy know who was boss… My favorite stunt? Choking people out. I’d jab my right forearm against their throats, spin them around, hoist them up on my back, and squeeze with all my might. Then I’d whisper into their ears as they lost consciousness, “You’re gonna die, asshole.”

On getting “busted” by a principled prosecutor: The attorney peered at me through his tortoiseshell glasses and said, “Does the Constitution of the United States mean anything to you, Officer Stamper?” I was furious…. But my rage quickly turned to embarrassment…. By the time I slithered down the stairs of the courthouse and out into the bright sunshine, I was saturated in shame.

On men: What are the chances that [we] American males will accept full responsibility for the breathtaking levels of violence in our society, and do something about it?

On drug use: Alcohol had always been my drug of choice, but in the mid-eighties I went to work with my pockets full of painkillers. I popped them throughout the day, long after the misery of a failed kidney stone extraction had worn off.

On women in policing: For police work to become more attractive to women, basic changes must take place. Those chiefs who still live in the Dark Ages have got to go. Replace them with enlightened leaders, preferably women.

On capital punishment: No one epitomizes the avenging angel better than George W. Bush. I’m not talking about his legitimate war in Afghanistan or his indefensible war in Iraq, I’m talking about his war against mercy and justice in Texas. During his reign as a “compassionate conservative” governor, Bush presided over the executions of 152 inmates…. “There is powerful evidence that [at least one Texas death-row inmate] did not commit the murder for which the state put him to death.”

On marching in the gay pride parade: As we turned onto Broadway we were met by half a dozen sign-toting Christian fundamentalists who, when they recognized me in uniform, shouted greetings like, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Chief!” and “You’re gonna burn in hell, Chief.”

On the clash between Giuliani and Bratton: In Giuliani’s hubris, he believed he knew best how to run NYPD and FDNY. Only the most egotistical public official thinks he can be both mayor and police commissioner. Giuliani would have done himself a service by swallowing his pride and congratulating both himself and Bill Bratton for making New York glisten.

On officer safety: Most police officer deaths can be prevented, but it’s got to start with excellent training—and a confident attitude. Cops who believe they’re going to get shot, or who believe they’re going to die if they do get shot, need reprogramming…. [they must develop] a survivor’s mentality.

On police unions: Police unions are, with noteworthy exceptions, a pernicious embarrassment to law enforcement. They’ve fought ferociously against equal employment opportunity for women, people of color, gays and lesbians. They’ve opposed civilian review initiatives, and undermined existing accountability measures.

On the press: Being singed by sensational reporting caused me to lose confidence in the fourth estate. I can no longer read an article, whether on a controversial police shooting or on Moby’s New York tea shop, without wondering if the reporter told the truth.

On the “Battle in Seattle”: Having your ass kicked so completely—by protestors, politicians, the media, your own cops, colleagues from other agencies—does give cause for pause and reflection.

On killing a man: I stick my gun into the car, point it at the back of his head, level the barrel so the slug won’t follow a downward path, and pull the trigger…. Thirteen years after the shooting, I’m sitting on a sofa, talking to a shrink…. It hits me that I’ve never spoken to anyone about the feelings. That’s because, until this moment…. I hadn’t realized I had feelings about it. I cry, tears rolling down my face. I start shaking, and can’t stop.