A retired Baltimore cop remembers his hair-raising experiences on
the force in this debut memoir.
HBO’s television show The Wire and David Simon’s 1991 book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets have previously vividly captured the world of Baltimore law enforcement. Now comes Danko, who served for 25 years in the Baltimore Police Department, with a sometimes-illuminating insider’s view that pays homage to “those who stand between good and evil, the law abiding and the lawless.” The author writes that he feels his profession is underappreciated and sets out to show “how exhausting and demanding the job of police officer is, physically and mentally.” A Baltimore native, Danko joined the police department in 1962 and rose up through the ranks to become a homicide detective. In a city with no shortage of high-crime neighborhoods, he had horrific experiences that he describes in an almost matter-of-fact tone. At one point, for example, he was called to investigate a bad odor coming from an abandoned building; he entered a darkened room, looked down, and realized that “I had just stepped into the chest cavity of what remained of a man.” Another time, in an apartment ridden with cockroaches, he and his partner walked through a tunnel formed by piles of newspapers “as quickly as we could, hunching our shoulders, trying to make smaller targets for our little brown friends.” Danko also provides a graphic account of a serial killer who confessed to murdering three women to “get even for all the disrespect” that he felt women had shown him: “Damn them all! They are all alike,” he chillingly told the detectives. There’s plenty that will interest true-crime fans in Danko’s reminiscences. However, the book is on less sure ground when it attempts to provide sociological analysis, preferring right-wing rhetoric to useful insight: “We have generations sitting around waiting for the [welfare] check in the mail, with no self-pride or initiative,” Danko complains, and the “misguided concepts” of “bleeding heart liberals,” he asserts, have only put criminals back on the street. Although the author’s dedication is admirable, the opinions here sometimes come across as anachronisms, as when he dismisses the uproar over recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere as “a concerted effort to undermine the authority of police officers in the performance of their duties.”
This book’s accounts of homicide investigations should interest true-crime aficionados, but its attempts at sociological analysis fall flat.