The other night at the comedy club, I was talking with a fellow comedian and I used the expression, “it’s a ground ball.” My buddy was fascinated by the term, and asked me to repeat it. And then it hit me: I had just snuck some police jargon into our conversation. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I guess I miss the job. It’s not that I miss doing actual police work; I miss just talking shop with other cops.
I can always spot a cop — even when they’re in plain clothes — just by listening to the words and phrases they use. Cops have a language all their own:
Perp = Bad Guy
Swings = Weekends
Put me out on meal = I’m going out for lunch
Bus = Ambulance
Scratch this = Put your signature on it
Bats = Batons we use for crowd control
The Box = The precinct interrogation room
The Cage = The holding cell
If you step on your dick (mess up), then you may get launched (transferred to another precinct far, far away). If you go out for coffee, or come back from the free world with food and didn’t call into the office to check to see if anyone else wanted something, then you may get labeled as being one way (someone who only looks out for himself). Arresting a perp is a called making a collar, and if you avoid making an arrest, you shit canned it. A magillah is a situation that’s gone horribly wrong, and a cluster fuck is the result of dealing with a magillah.
I worked in the 26th Precinct Detective Squad, investigating robberies and burglaries for five years. One sunny day while working in the squad, I received a call from the Desk Sergeant, notifying me of a robbery. A male, white — possibly Latino — with a long ponytail and tattoos on both arms had just held up the laundromat right around the corner from the precinct. So, my partner Rob and I took a walk over to investigate.
When we got there, I asked the victim — a pretty brunette with a heavy Spanish accent — to tell me what happened. She said, “A man came in and put a knife to my throat and say ‘give me the money,’ so, I gave him the money!”
I then asked her, “If you ever saw the man who put the knife to your throat again, would you be able to recognize him?”
“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “He come every day with his daughter…she play the video games.”
I admit to being somewhat surprised at her answer, so I pushed my luck a bit more and asked,“Do you know where this guy lives?” And she shocked us once again.
“Oh, yes, yes,” she said. “He lives next door. Come, I show you.” So, my partner Rob and I followed our victim out of the laundromat and onto 125th Street. She took us two doors west, pointed up to the second floor window, and said, “That’s his apartment.”
We sent the pretty Spanish girl back inside. Then Rob and I went into the building, up to the second floor, and I knocked on the door. A man fitting the description given to us by our victim answered the door. So, I asked him straight out, “Hey man, did you just rob the laundromat next door?”
“YEAH!” the guy enthusiastically replied.
I looked at Rob, and he’s shaking his head in disbelief — clearly this guy was not playing with a full deck. “Why?” I asked him.
“Because I needed the money!” he said.
“You know pal,” I began. “I’m going to have to arrest you now.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, bowing his head sadly. He turned around and put his hands behind his back, and I cuffed him.
The whole case was solved in 20 minutes — start to finish. That, my friend, is what’s known in NYPD jargon as a ground ball! Of course not every case gets solved so easily. Sometimes you catch a case that’s referred to as a bag of shit. That’s when you’ve got nothing: no evidence, no witnesses, no ID, no surveillance cameras — nothing.
Back in the day, when I was a detective in the squad, every once in a while there’d be a spike in crime, or a homicide, and it was all hands on deck. We’d have to work countless hours, sometimes not going home for days. And we had enough paperwork to make your head spin. The only comfort was that you knew you could talk shop with your partners, because they spoke your language. And I miss that.