23RD PRECINCT by Arlene Schulman


The Job
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A fine, grim piece of living theater—a year spent with a New York City police precinct located in a shady part of town—from photographer and journalist Schulman (Carmine’s Story, 1997, etc.).

Remarkably, Schulman was given permission to spend a year with the officers of the 23rd Precinct: 96th to 115th Street, Fifth Avenue to the East River. It’s not the worst piece of city property—lots of swank down at the south end, but moving north it gets much rougher. While Schulman paints the backdrop, the police are allowed to speak for themselves. No readers are going to have their socks blown off by any revelations, but it is good to be reminded just how withering a patrolman’s task is: the paperwork (police spend fully half their time doing paperwork, which is more writing than most writers do), the constancy of being on the lookout for someone wanting to nail you with a bottle thrown from a roof, and the overall lack of respect (“fuck you” being a decidedly more common greeting than “good day, officer”). Schulman captures this in fleeting, episodic chapters, a staccato reportage that documents a cynicism (“About year five you stop caring. About year ten you start doing a countdown to your pension”) buffered by idealism (“It’s important for cops to communicate with everyone,” says a veteran). The author is not looking for any answers here (to corruption, bureaucratic snafus, or bad cops), she’s just trying to find a pulse on a body of professionals at a hard time, when the political administration is more interested in the appearances (“The City focuses on ‘broken windows’ quality-of-life violations, which included littering, drinking beer and consuming alcoholic beverages in public”) than the realities of urban peacekeeping.

A sharp and biting portrait that—despite real glimpses of dignity and courage—no police department is likely to pick up for recruiting purposes.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2001
ISBN: 1-56947-237-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2001