First published on Scotcampus on 10/08/15 (available here)
In 1980s New York, there was a huge increase in the amount of crack cocaine available, resulting in more than a few scary places in the city. The documentary Precinct Seven Five delves into the period, exposing the huge amount of police corruption and informing audiences by interviewing those on both sides of the law: focusing on the 75 precinct in Brooklyn.
We spoke with ex-police officer Michael Dowd, labelled as “the dirtiest cop ever”, to find out his thoughts on the documentary, being handed in by his partner and police corruption.
You said yourself that you never set out to become a “bad cop”. Do you think it’s possible for anyone to become to corrupt in a positon of power?
Well yes, it is possible. I think that we all make choices on a daily basis on everything we do and when you’re a police officer being corrupt is very close to being correct in some respects because it’s a decision you make numerous times during the course of the day. So yeah the perception of corruption as opposed to an act of corruption are two different things. For example, a police officer can get a discount on a cup of coffee or a free cup of coffee, through an act of corruption. So yeah, I can see the potential. To how rigidly the individual stands by the ethics and codes of being a police officer.
Within the film it’s mentioned that in the 1980s the pay for cops is around $600.
That’s every two weeks, not every week. That check cleared every two weeks. So it was $310 dollars a week almost.
Do you think that being underpaid and underappreciated resulted in more corruption, as you were sent out to places where there was a lot of drugs, and you couldn’t really see a difference being made?
I think you make the point there, [that’s it’s] more than the money itself, it’s that you felt as though you were holding your finger in this hole in the dam and that it was about to burst if you just move your finger. And that, coupled with the fact that you never really felt appreciated ‘cause it’s never really about the pay. It’s more about acknowledgement. And really when you’re overwhelmed in the ghetto and the environment of the crack ‘80s, all I cared about was going home and being safe. You know I could make an arrest, the sergeant looks at me one day and says pretty good arrest you made there but you’re wearing white socks [laughing]. And he was like annoyed about the white sock in other words he was worried more about the shit than the reality. Yeah these are the types of things you ran into as a young police officer and it sort of like sways you, like okay, like next time I take the money you won’t see my white socks ‘cause I won’t make an arrest [laughing].
Would you say that it was the thrill of getting away with your first crime that made you continue?
Yeah I thinking getting away with it and feeling ok with it later on. Initially you’re very uncomfortable and then you know, you got away with it so you began to justify it. In one car stop, where we had a little bit of an agreement, me and the occupant, I [made] third of my pay check for such a minor overlooking. You’re not talking about a drug deal, you’re not talking about burglary or whatever the case, or whatever. Many of the times we came across what people had left so like, you could easily justify that.
You believe that a “good cop” stands by his fellow officers. How do you feel about being betrayed by Kenny Urell?
[Sighs] Well I wasn’t so upset about him turning on me to protect himself and his family. I was more upset about him turning on me for he no longer worked with me. When he turns on me in this film people are not aware of what’s taking place. I hadn’t worked with Kenny since 1989 and it’s now 1992 when he calls me to help him get a package of drugs. While this package of drugs gets delivered, eventually it turns into him and I getting arrested on bail for the crime and then while out on bail he encourages me to get involved with this so-called “execution, kidnapping” project of his.
Of course at the time it all upsets you but as I look back as a 50-something-year-old man, that upset me because he was actually building a case for himself to be let go on crimes that he dragged us into. He was retired with a three quarters disability pension for the rest of his life. That I got him. So he was home with his wife and kids, they were bored so him and his wife got involved in a narcotics transaction, their investigation is closing in on them, they didn’t even know it. They call me up now I’m dragged into their conspiracy. I end up being the organiser of his big criminal enterprise and he skips away scot free with his wife and kids, move to Florida and I do 14 years prison sentence and he doesn’t do a day.
So do you think it’s wrong that he never spent any time in prison considering he was just as involved?
There’s two ways of looking at it, he certainly didn’t pay for his crimes. I think that the way that the said system is designed and the federal government I’ve come to learn is that’s what you get for giving them what they want. He gave them what they wanted. However, at the end of the day he and the federal government, wanted myself to be involved in the lady execution, kidnapping that was never supposed to happen. It was his idea that it was going to go there, it was my idea to go get money to leave the country. I’m writing a book and all this is laid out in great detail, it’s like peeling an onion the story just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Some of the stories you’ve never heard, you’ll laugh your ass of at so I hope that people with an interest in this movie will get to see both the book and the feature movie.
You were dealing with drug and alcohol problems as well as personal problems at the time of the planned kidnapping. If you hadn’t had these problems would you have seen everything a bit more clearly?
I can think back as a 54-year-old man and it’s quite obvious at the time the Kenny was working me and I didn’t want to believe it. I allude to the fact it is like being cheated on, you’re thinking “maybe they are maybe they’re not” but you just don’t believe it. I mean you can blame drugs and alcohol for all and anything in your life but when your judgement is impaired then you always make decisions based on immediate gratification. I didn’t look at the bigger picture. I had a 10 year pension almost already. I would’ve had 20 years pension [by retirement], so that would have been great.
Adam Daiz, states that you appeared more like him than Kenny who always seemed more like a cop. Would you have considered yourself more of a cop or a-
Or a ganster?
[Laughing] Actually I considered myself both. Both a cop and a gangster. That’s the way it was. I was just as rouge as the gangsters that didn’t have the badge, and I had both.