• Roger Canaff

National Police Week, 2020

In honor of the men and women I was so proud to work alongside for many years, a bittersweet memory I wrote about from 2007, just before leaving the Bronx. To Brian (pictured with me here in November) and Lulu, and all of you out there, stay safe, healthy and know that you're loved.


“Beeper duty” is what’s it’s called. For ADA’s in the Bronx District Attorneys Office, it means a 24 hour shift in which the Assistant District Attorney responds to serious assaults and homicides that occur in the borough when someone in authority deems it necessary. It’s not nearly as garish as it was back in the day. My mentors at BXDA, there since the 80’s, remember a time when beeper duty involved a separate pager reserved just for homicides, when ADA’s were literally “beeped” from location to location for the entire period, encountering shot-through, rotting, broken, body after body in the gruesome series of killings that plagued the Bronx before the relative calm that finally settled in by the mid 90’s. I was on beeper duty on a random Tuesday night in April of 2007, shortly before leaving BXDA. It was one of the roughly 15 days of perfect weather the New York area experiences every year. A beautiful spring day darkened into a warm, breezy, evening. I got the beeper at 9:00 a.m. and worked my typical day. The beeper was blessedly silent. Knowing I had the thing for 16 hours after that, I planned an evening with two of my favorite NYPD detectives, Brian Carey and Lourdes Gonzeles, both of the Bronx Special Victims Unit. They were working that night, and I had a couple of tasks out in the community I needed their help with. Brian and Lulu were partners, and two of the best people I’ve worked with in any environment. Lulu had taken a bullet to her arm as a young cop; Brian ruined his knee and required a brutal series of surgeries after chasing a perp not long after the night I write about now. The two of them are open-hearted, deeply decent, dear friends- big reasons why I love cops the way I do. We chased down my witnesses and then went to dinner in one of the myriad, little known, and phenomenal restaurants that dot the Bronx and that only locals and NYPD really know. It was a great night. The weather was angelic. The company was sublime. We ate, we bitched about city employment, we reminisced. From there I stayed with the two of them as they worked through their evening until it was past midnight. They offered a couple of times to run me back to the west side of Manhattan where I lived; Brian spent years on the mayor’s security detail and could bridge distances throughout New York City with breathtaking brevity. But I was happy being out. I was on duty anyway, and it was a beautiful night. And then Lulu got the call. There was a dead baby at Lincoln, meaning Lincoln Hospital Center, in the South Bronx. The baby had been brought in by her parents, a young couple, and the circumstances of death were unknown. The parents were talking to Administration for Children’s Services, or ACS. There was nothing to prompt a murder investigation yet, but Special Victims needed to respond with an ADA. Lulu and Brian had that covered. At about 1:15, we headed over to Lincoln. I never met the parents of the baby. I left the office shortly after that duty shift, and I don’t believe either of them or anyone else was charged in relation to her death. I never knew what killed her. I only knew that she was about 13 weeks old. We usually see the dead in one of several general circumstances: the actual place where they died, the morgue, or the funeral home. I had seen dead children in those places. I had never, for whatever reason, seen a dead baby in the sterile, ordered confines of a hospital room, as of yet unprocessed for transport to the morgue. She had been classified dead on arrival, or DOA. So there were no tubes, no wires, none of the apparatus often associated with the extremities of modern medicine. She was not in a bathtub, a gutter, or the bench seat of a car. She was not tucked into the white silk pocket of a hideously undersized casket. She was just still, lying neatly and peacefully on an exam table. There was a nurse’s assistant attending to the baby in a way I can only describe as lovingly desperate, as if even in death this girl-child needed tenderness and attention. The assistant adjusted the blankets over the baby as if she still might feel a chill in the exam room. Brian and Lulu left me and went to talk to the ER docs who had seen the baby. The nurse’s assistant was an older Latina woman. She saw me, in the hallway in a rumpled suit and tie with an advanced 5:00 shadow and reddened eyes. She smiled and I greeted her in Spanish, a language I am conversational but not fluent in. Despite probably speaking English, she answered me in her language which I’m always grateful for. It’s good practice. “Senora, soy fiscal,” I said quietly. I’m a prosecutor. “Estoy con los detectivos. Por favor, puedo verla?,” I asked. Can I see her? She nodded and beckoned me into the room. The baby girl was perfect. Doll-like with long, curving eyelashes, unblemished, coffee-colored skin and plump, smooth, healthy-looking arms and legs. Her eyelids were closed and she lay almost poised, her stillness seeming attributable to something other than what it was, which was death. But it didn’t look like death. It seemed as if she knew someone was watching her sleep. I crossed myself and the assistant joined me. “Pobrecita, no?” she said, out loud and as much to the universe as to me. She asked this the way Spanish speakers do, in a rhetorical fashion. No one other than God is expected to have an answer. Poor little thing, no? “Si. Claro,” I said. Yes. Of course.

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