Cop Says He Beat Civilians, and Department Looked the Other Way
NEW YORK (AP) _ Officer Bernie Cawley was only on the police force a few weeks when he discovered what he did best: beat civilians.
The rookie was so good that an approving sergeant nicknamed him ″The Mechanic″ because ″I used to tune people up,″ Cawley recalled, using department slang.
Cawley tuned up a lot of people - some suspects, some not - over the next two years in the 46th Precinct in the city’s Bronx borough. The department looked the other way, law enforcement officials say.
Cawley gave his account of corruption in a videotaped interview that law enforcement officials agreed to show The Associated Press in advance of his first public appearance Wednesday before a city panel investigating police corruption.
In his taped testimony, Cawley said he regularly stole money and cash from drug dealers. On Monday, Officer Michael Dowd said he was running a $4,000-a- week drug protection racket.
But in many ways Cawley’s crimes were more brazen, his methods more brutish and the Internal Affairs Division’s indifference more glaring than in the Dowd case, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Also, Cawley might be a more credible witness. He is serving a prison sentence and might not benefit from working with the commission. Dowd has entered into a plea bargain and hopes his cooperation will result in a lighter sentence.
Although the Internal Affairs Division was aware that Cawley and other officers were allegedly committing crimes, it was only when Cawley was arrested by federal agents in October 1990 for selling stolen guns that it took his case seriously, the officials said.
In testimony before the commission Tuesday, an internal affairs investigator who pursued Dowd said the department similarly ignored evidence showing that Dowd and other officers robbed drug dealers and divvied up the proceeds on a back-room pool table at a Brooklyn bar.
Sgt. Joseph Trimboli said Internal Affairs feared ″another scandal that would be a tremendous embarrassment to the New York City Police Department.″
Dowd, 32, who supplemented his $400 weekly take-home pay to accommodate a red Corvette, four homes and lavish vacations, was arrested on a drug charge in Suffolk County in May 1992.
Cawley joined the force in 1986 at age 23. He said his slide into corruption began when his first supervisor urged him to rough up anyone who looked or acted like a drug dealer or user.
The supervising sergeant ″liked seeing young aggressive guys show force″ with nightsticks and flashlights, he said.
In the 46th, a poor neighborhood populated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Cawley quickly graduated from mindless brutality to ″doin’ doors″ - smashing in the doors of apartments where drugs were dealt, swiping drugs and cash and later bragging about it to other officers.
″Everyone knew about it,″ he said. ″It was like a locker room thing.″
Even his arrest on federal charges did not stop Cawley. While out on bail, he was caught breaking into an apartment to steal drugs in a sting operation set up by the Bronx district attorney’s office and the Internal Affairs Division.
The sting landed him a prison sentence of three years to life. It also convinced him to give Internal Affairs the names of a dozen others in the 46th who did similar bad deeds, he said.
But Internal Affairs records indicate the division only investigated one other officer, who eventually was fired.
″They give you a uniform, they give you a car, they give you a radio and they tell you to just go out and do your job,″ Cawley said on the videotape.
″Nobody’s watching. You can do anything you want.″