One Police Plaza

Police Suicide: No New Answers to Old Problem

August 8, 1994

The incident that prompted Capt. Terrence Tunnock to go to federal authorities a week before committing suicide involved a 10-man rogue unit, the Raiders.

Whether his coming forward is related to his suicide is unknown. Both police department spokesman John Miller and Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Shechtman, who is heading the federal probe of the rogue cops, stress that Tunnock came forward voluntarily, and the incident he has reported appears on the surface to be "innocuous," Shechtman said. "By his [Tunnock's] own account he witnessed no wrongdoing. At no time was he a subject of any investigation."

The incident Tunnock reported occurred a year ago and began on the border of the 30th and the 32nd Precincts; Tunnock was assigned to the 32nd. He was directed to an apartment where guns, cocaine and cash were found. The Raiders, whose job was to get guns and drugs off Harlem streets, also appeared and their sergeant said they would seize the stash as evidence. Tunnock left, reminding the sergeant to voucher everything.

When the first wave of 14 arrests occurred at the 30th Precinct in May, Tunnock called the sergeant about the incident. The sergeant said he assured Tunnock that everything had been vouchered. "I told him there was no problem," he said last week in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, one of the 14 arrested cops had implicated one of the Raiders. That Raider then told authorities that the unit's modus operandi consisted of "booming," or breaking down drug dealers' apartment doors; "flaking," or planting guns or drugs on the dealers when they were arrested; and taking their money. Their sergeant, also under investigation, has denied this, saying these are only the allegations of the "turned" Raider.

Meanwhile, the turned Raider began wearing a concealed recording device. That ended precipitously when, at a night game at Shea Stadium, he confessed to two Raider colleagues he was cooperating with the feds. And one of the two pulled a gun.

What worries those involved in the investigation is that as it drags on, one of these officers - accustomed to a culture of violence and under the pressure of intense scrutiny - may copy Tunnock.

Tunnock was the eighth police officer to commit suicide this year and is believed to be the highest-ranking officer to have done so in nearly 60 years. In the six-year period between 1934 and 1940, no fewer than 93 police officers took their lives, including two inspectors, a captain and a lieutenant. That spate of self-inflicted deaths inspired a study, probably the most complete ever in the NYPD.

Much has been written over the years, including speculation about officers' prior psychological problems, marital difficulties, chronic disabilities, alcoholism, machismo and even fear of corruption from LaGuardia's reform administration. Then, as now, there were no easy answers.

Cops and pols
. Bronx Det. Charles Serrano is believed to be the only police officer in the NYPD's 30,000-member force running for political office. And it has already cost him.

Serrano, 49, a 19-year veteran, is seeking to run in the 77th Bronx Assembly District against incumbent Aurelia Greene. Greene, and her husband, Jerome, a Democratic district leader, were acquitted of 1990 charges they stole a piano from a district school. Both were members of the Community School District 9 board in the Bronx, which was suspended in 1988 amid allegations of corruption.

Serrano first sought elective office in 1990, when he ran on the Conservative Party line for the state Senate against Efraim Gonzalez. Because he received a party endorsement, he says, the department informed him he had to leave the NYPD. Before he could straighten this out and before the election, his military reserve unit was called up for the Persian Gulf war, and off he went to Saudi Arabia.

He finally managed to get his job back with the NYPD, though he says he lost a year of vested service. This time he is shunning the Conservative nomination and seeking the Democratic, which in the Bronx can be tantamount to election. Then, he says, he'll happily leave the department. Unfortunately for him, this isn't likely. Greene is challenging his nominating petitions. Serrano says his lawyers' fees are already $ 5,000.

The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which is supposed to keep the mob off city piers, is fishing for a new chief of its 30-member police division. A top contender is former NYPD Lt. Jack Ferguson, currently the chief investigator in the Staten Island district attorney's office. Ferguson once served as a captain at the commission.

No go, Joe. Joseph Borrelli has made it official: He is staying as chief of detectives. Borrelli, who turned 63 last month, can remain past the former mandatory retirement age because federal law prohibits such age discrimination. Borrelli is especially well-regarded by Commissioner William Bratton, who has been impressed by the speed with which the detective bureau has solved recent high-profile cases, from the shooting of two Hasidic men on the Brooklyn Bridge to the Vera Wang bridal shop thieves.

©1994 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.