Editor's 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.
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.
You couldn’t hear anything — no one was talking. Can you imagine that, in our city?
"I became a cop because my dad made me take the police tests; he bet me $10 I wouldn’t pass... But I did, and I never looked back... I started in the projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in June of 1986." "It wasn’t too shocking — I kind of knew about the housing projects at the time...but I had a Spanish last name, red hair, and green eyes, so I stood out a lot. Even though I grew up in the city, I never knew anyone who did heroin. So it was kind of a shock to see it in the projects. And then to see them come down off it…it’s a horrible thing. But I met great people and had a great career. I was treated like one of the guys — sometimes there was cursing or a sexual innuendo. But that didn’t bother me. Growing up in Brooklyn, you get a thick skin. Eventually, I got called into the housing narcotics unit, which is where I got my shield. We’d have confidential informants do the drug buying, and that’s how we’d get the bad guys. "By the time was pregnant with my second kid, I went into the Manhattan narcotics unit, which was a whole other ball game. You’d walk into these fancy apartments and it’d be like a drugs store — they had everything: cocaine, pills, you name it. The packaging was all on shelves. It was very advanced. "Then, a position opened up in the Special Victims Unit as a detective. A friend of mine said, 'I’m going to go onto the child side, come do it.' So I did, and I did 12 years there. I spent 24 years on the force altogether. "Some of the cases we saw were horrific. You try not to bring it home. My worst case happened the night before Thanksgiving. A six-year-old child’s father stabbed his mother to death, and the child witnessed it — but he thought that what he saw was daddy helping mommy throw up. What the man was actually doing was stabbing her repeatedly in the stomach, and she was throwing up her lungs. We had a way of interviewing the child, and he told us what he saw. The D.A. was fine with it, because what he described was his father stabbing his mother. I didn’t get home until 9 p.m. the next day. My partner and I were devastated. It was Thanksgiving, and this kid’s father was going to jail, and his mother was dead. And the next day was his birthday, which he’d planned to have at Burger King. So my partner and I went to Toys-R-Us and brought a bunch of toys to him. He went to live with his mother’s family upstate. I don’t know if, to this day, he’ll know that what he saw was his mother being murdered. His name was Brian; he lived in Sunset Park. He was just adorable. I still think of him to this day. After, I took off every Thanksgiving. I was like, never again.
It was Thanksgiving, and this kid’s father was going to jail, and his mother was dead. And the next day was his birthday.
I’ve never been to so many funerals in my life.
"I moved to New York (Elmhurst, Queens) from Bangladesh when I was six years old — with my mom, my dad, and my two younger sisters. I’m pretty much a lifelong New Yorker — hence, no accent [laughs]. When I first came here, the neighborhood was very Italian, Irish, and Spanish. Then, we moved to Corona and were the only East Indian family there. It was a little tough...assimilating; the food wasn’t the same, and [I had] no friends of the same nationality. I remember being bullied and called names, and not having too many friends or interactions with people other than my immediate family. New York is way more of a melting pot now. "When I came to this country, I started watching American TV. I used to watch Super Friends, The Lone Ranger, and Wonder Woman, and it really made me realize that I wanted to do something where I could give back, and help and protect innocent people. Especially in my family, being the eldest, I was always the one helping everyone out; when other family members would come to this country, and need to do Visa applications, I would do them. My parents relied on me a lot when it came to translations, especially with school stuff, like parent-teacher conferences, report cards... "I knew, when I was about 13, that I really wanted to work in law enforcement or political science. Having teachers who told me, 'You can be anything you want to be as a woman' — we never had that in my culture. In my culture, you’re not taught to be strong; you’re taught to be meek, to stay on a path until you reach a certain age, and then you go into an arranged marriage. And my parents didn’t know any different, because that was their upbringing. So that was my clash. "A friend of mine told me she’d seen a poster to become a police cadet... The next day, I called them... A sergeant answered, told me the deadline had passed, but took my information in case someone dropped out. A few days later, I got that call. I went for the interview, filled out a ton of paperwork, and had a physical and background check conducted. Two weeks later, they called me and said, 'Congratulations, you’re now a police cadet.' "I was a cadet from 1987 to 1989, and then became an officer in 1989. It was a little difficult. I was the only Bengali female in the police academy. To me, every place of business has its own sense of sexism and discrimination. There’s not one industry that’s immune — corporate or in the public sector. I always chalk it up to, 'If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,' but it’s definitely hard. I think a lot of women at the time had the same feeling — of just not knowing what to expect.
I was the only Bengali female in the police academy.
The biggest thing was realizing that it’s all about the victim; whatever makes the victim comfortable is what matters.