Special Victims Unit: Female NYPD Officers Reveal Their Most Heartbreaking Stories

Life in the NYPD is something that’s highly regarded in pop culture and also something that’s heavily scrutinized in the media. What it isn’t, though, is an easy feat in terms of mental and physical stability — or longevity. This is especially true for the women detectives.

Note: Some stories in this article may be disturbing to readers, as they involve child abuse, sexual abuse, and graphic violence. Last names have been omitted according to the wishes of the sources and the confidential nature of the information published.

That’s where Jennifer, Andrea, and Florence come in. They’re three women with different backgrounds who eventually found common ground in their desire to help people, solve crimes, and define justice for themselves. It was this innate sensibility that would lead them to the police department’s Special Victim’s Unit, where they worked as detectives on some of the city’s darkest crimes for nearly two decades.

Now retired, they can talk openly (though not without heavy emotion and reflection) about their experiences working in New York in the ’80s and ’90s, when the city was struggling with record rates of drug addiction, rape, and murder. Their stories are not just brutally compelling (and at times, extremely frightening); they come with a hefty dose of empathy and strength that we’re convinced only women in such positions can possess.

Jennifer, Queens

“I grew up in Oceanside, Long Island, and I wanted to be a cop since I was a little kid. I took the police test when I was 19, and I just waited. At first, they didn’t want to hire me. Apparently, my mom called them, and gave them a good talking to — and they changed their mind. Nobody says no to my mother.

“I graduated [the academy] in July of 1986 and went to the 75th precinct. At the time, I was the only woman on the midnight staff, and it was the height of the crack epidemic. I was shot at so many times, I lost count. I was there for five years, and in five years, it got pretty bad. We had a hostage situation once, where they were firing down the street — at 7 a.m. on my birthday. This guy was holding hostages and had shot his girlfriend in the head in Coney Island. We’re waiting for backup and all that — it took hours. Finally, the Emergency Services guys came and shot him — didn’t kill him, just shot him. We met a woman from down the block, and we told her it was my birthday. When it was all done, she invited us into her house for coffee and food. That was the last time I ever worked my birthday. Never again. Working on your birthday…it’s a jinx.

“We had a hostage situation once where they were firing down the street at 7 a.m. on my birthday”

“Over the years, my partner and I got into street crime, which is a plain-clothes unit that works anywhere with a large amount of robberies. One time, I saw a guy in a delivery car. He was acting funny, so we pulled him over on a really dark street — my partner was searching him, and he pulled out a gun. I didn’t realize it until later, but he had a piece of crack on him that was about a foot long. I didn’t even know what it was, since I’d only seen [crack] when it’d been broken up. And then he tried to bribe me. I said no — the guy was looking at 20 years in prison. I guess that was good, because I was offered to move over to the warrant squad. I told my boss I’d applied to move over there many years ago, but they said no because they only took detectives. He told me not to worry, and that he’d take care of it. And he did.

“In the warrant squad, I learned a lot about warrants, how to check people — things that greatly benefitted me later on, as a detective. After I got promoted [to detective] in 1997, I got transferred to Special Victims. They needed people, since no one wants to volunteer for that stuff… I loved it.

“Three times, I’ve dealt with serial rapists. One kind of got dumped on me, but I got a confession from him. I don’t know how I did it — but boy, was he stupid. We tracked him down through a parole officer. Another one, I knew he was staying with his mother in Queens. I was plastering his block with ‘Wanted’ posters. He finally called me, and asked, ‘Why are you telling lies about me?’ And I told him, ‘Because you’re a rapist.’ He finally got caught for doing something stupid, his name popped up, and they brought him in. He was convicted.

“I don’t know what was worse, though — the cases I saw in the Special Victims Unit, or 9/11, going through all those pieces of dead bodies at Ground Zero. It was an all-hands-on deck moment. At the time, our offices were in Dumbo, right across [the water] from the World Trade Center. I’d gone out to the park right there and saw a plane crash into one of the towers. There was an explosion, and the ground shook. You could literally see windows and glass shattering. We all thought the world was coming to an end. I ran to get my uniform, called my friend to look after my dog, called my parents to tell them I loved them, and went to Ground Zero. There was this total silence right after it happened. You’d see people walking across the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges covered in gray. You couldn’t hear anything — no one was talking. Can you imagine that, in our city? Utter silence. They made us go to different hospitals to get victim statements, but there really wasn’t anybody left. They wanted us to pick up every piece of skin and bone for evidence. But the part that sticks with me is just how much in shock we were. I couldn’t even eat. I’d stay up for 12-hour shifts, and when I got home, the smell would just stay with me. It’s a smell you never forget. Our goal was to find the black boxes. To my knowledge, they were never found. At first, I thought it was a welcome break from being with abused kids. But it wasn’t. But you just have to do your job.

Read more at Refinery 29.

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