One Police Plaza

Career, Policy Are Finished

May 2, 1994

The NYPD says a case like that of Officer Eric Mercer of Brooklyn's 77th Precinct can never happen again. Mercer, 29, a cop for just two years, was fired last week for refusing to take a drug test. His career began as badly as it ended.

The Applicant Processing Division rejected him because he had been arrested for burglary and for gun charges, had $ 1,300 in unpaid parkings summonses and had admitted using marijuana and cocaine after denying it to police investigators. But James Hargrove, then the assistant commissioner of recruitment, reversed that decision and Mercer was appointed a police officer in February, 1992.

Hargrove's position was created in the 1980s to ensure minority applicants weren't discriminated against.

Reached at his vacation home in Kissimmee, Fla., Hargrove - a cop for 26 years who now is employed by the Board of Education - said Mercer was only a peripheral member of the group involved in the burglary. The gun he fired was his brother's and Mercer had no malicious intent. He hadn't paid the parking tickets because he didn't have the money. And "not a helluva of kids nowadays haven't tried some form of narcotics."

At the police academy, Mercer was chronically sick. He was then was absent from his residence while out sick, docked 30 days of accrued time and placed on a year's probation.

In January, 1993, while off-duty, he was shot in the chest at 3:45 a.m. outside of what some department officials said was a drug location. A year later, he was charged with failing to report to duty eight times. In March, he was suspended for insubordination and refusing to report to work. He refused to take the drug test, leading to his dismissal.

So why can't this happen again? Hargrove's position has been eliminated and Chief Michael Julian of the Personnel Bureau says no individual - except the police commissioner - will again have the power to reverse a decision by the APD that rejected a candidate for background reasons.

Opening Day. Behind a marching band and two mounted horses, some 400 kids and their parents set out from the 34th Precinct in Washington Heights up St. Nicholas Avenue for the opening day ceremony of the Michael John Buczek-Anthony Dwyer Little League.

The league was named for two cops killed in the line of duty - Buczek of the 34th Precinct, who was shot to death in 1988, and Dwyer of Midtown South, who was thrown off a roof while answering a burglary run in 1989. In five years the league has grown to 22 teams, including four for girls softball. In this working class, largely Dominican neighborhood where families are often sundered, off-duty cops from the 34th Precinct coach half the teams.

Amid the procession, cops walked next to their troops - blue-, red-, goldand maroon-uniformed boys and girls. Two cops, Andy DeStefano and his partner Frank Speringo, who coach two teams, Channel 41 and Redrum (murder spelled backward), were greeted by a perp on a bike whom they had recently arrested.

Buczek's mother, Josephine, threw out the first ball. Behind the coaching of Police Officer John Moynihan and the pitching of Sammy Vargas the 34th Precinct team defeated C-Town 8-4, and the season was under way.

Going to Long Island City. The Queens detectives hated it. The Queens brass felt it would be a logistical nightmare. Even Queens District Attorney Dick Brown, who is such a buff he drives to crime scenes at night, was furious and complained to Police Commissioner William Bratton.

What upset everyone was the plan to move specialized detective details from Queens precincts into an abandoned factory on Northern Boulevard in Long Island City.

What upset Brown is that one of those details is the Asian Crime Investigative Team, which is based in Flushing's 109th Precinct - the heart of the borough's Asian community.

"Moving it from there to Long Island City," said Brown's spokeswoman Mary DeBourbon, "is like moving an Asian unit in Manhattan from Chinatown to the South Bronx."

What angered the detectives was that the factory is the sole space on the block not condemned for a new subway tunnel. That meant no place to park.

Last week a compromise was reached. Top brass decided that the Applicant Processing Division, the Career Criminal Investigative Unit, the Queens Public Morals Division and the Queens division of the Internal Affairs Bureau would move to Long Island City in July.

The homicide squad, Special Victims, Criminal Identification and Queens Detectives administrative offices will remain in the 112th.

The Asian Investigative Unit will move to the old 107th Precinct station house in Fresh Meadows. While it may not be Chinatown, Brown agrees, it beats Long Island City.

©1994 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.