As we head into Police Week to celebrate the sacrifice and commitment of our nation’s law enforcement officers, we’d like to share some stories from American Police Beat‘s Cynthia Brown’s book, Brave Hearts: Extraordinary Stories of Pride, Pain and Courage, about heroes who paid high prices while serving and protecting their communities. Kicking off the series is the NYPD’s Barry Galfano, who died in 2010 of a rare cancer that afflicted many people who were involved in the clean-up of Ground Zero after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Barry Galfano: He Loved the Action
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
Barry Galfano is a cop who loves the action. He cannot remember ever hoping for a quiet shift, but on this particular Tuesday night it was all he longed for. The day before on Monday he worked the day shift. It was just a couple of weeks before Christmas, the busiest time of year for police officers patrolling midtown Manhattan. The purse snatchers and muggers were out in force preying on holiday shoppers. The work was non-stop.
When he got home that night all he wanted to do was relax, but his wife met him at the door and insisted he sit down with her and make plans for the holidays. When he told her he was tired and asked if they could do it tomorrow, she was upset.
“She told me she was fed up,” he said. “She began complaining that all I did was work and study for the sergeant’s exam and that planning for the Christmas holiday which was just two weeks away was not unreasonable.”
Barry said maybe it was because he was so tired, or maybe he was sick of the same old arguments, but the conversation quickly degenerated into name calling and angry accusations.
He went to bed angry and barely slept. The next day he was scheduled to work at night. As he drove into the city from his home on Long Island, all he wanted was a quiet shift patrolling with his German Shepherd police dog, Harry.
Unless the dispatcher called him with some impending disaster, his assignment Tuesday night was to patrol Times Square with Harry. Known as America’s crossroads to the world, Times Square is a cultural hub of theaters, concert halls, clubs, hotels and restaurants. It’s the place that millions of people in every country watch as the giant ball drops from a tower every New Year’s Eve. But the area is also a popular gathering place for drunks and derelicts and lately there had been a surge of robberies and assaults. Nevertheless, Barry was hoping he might get lucky. “I just wanted all the dirt bags and perps to go somewhere else,” he said.
But quiet it was not to be. He had only been out on patrol for an hour when he went into the passageway of the subway station and saw three men robbing a woman.
“I held onto to Harry, pulled my gun and ordered them down on the ground,” he said. “Once they were down, I put my gun back in the holster and called for back up on my radio. It was only a second, but before I could get the call through, the dog spun around behind me and lunged up in the air to my left.”
The dog’s sudden movements distracted Galfano. For a split second he took his eyes away from the men on the floor. Barry was now in a vulnerable position. It was three against one and he had lost eye contact with the suspects. Not realizing what was happening behind him, he yanked on the leash and yelled at the dog to stop. What he did not know, but the dog did, was there was a fourth man in the group. As he struggled to keep control of the three men on the ground, someone else, gripping a large piece of wood, was approaching him from behind. When the dog saw him coming, he flew around to Barry’s back, lunged and sunk his teeth into the arm of the man wielding the wood plank.
Over a law enforcement career of three decades mostly spent training police dogs for the nation’s largest and busiest canine unit, Barry still says Harry was the best police dog he ever worked with.
“He was a very protective animal,” he said. “If I gave him the signal, he’d go after anyone. Sometimes I didn’t even need to give a signal. Harry had a sixth sense, an amazing ability to know what posed a threat. I never worked with a dog who was better at regular patrol work. During the ten years we were together Harry helped me send some very hardened criminals to jail.”
Barry still talks about one arrest he made with Harry.
“It was a cold winter night in 1985,” he explained. “ I was patrolling inside a subway station in Queens when an Hispanic man came running up to me. He was completely out of breath and obviously upset. His English wasn’t the best but I was pretty sure he was telling me his wife had just been raped and that the attacker ran out of their apartment when he’d returned home. He chased the guy until he disappeared into a nearby bar.”
Galfano and Harry followed the man to the bar.
When the bouncer saw Barry was a cop with a dog he told him he could not go in with the dog. “He tried to shut the door but Harry managed to wedge his head in just before it slammed. I yelled out that I was the police and we were coming in. The bouncer was a big guy but when he saw Harry barking he backed away. As we came through the door, the patrons in the bar started screaming. They were jumping up on top of the bar stools and even on top of the bar itself. Towards the back of the room I saw a kid jump up and run towards the back door. The husband, who followed in behind me, said he was sure this was the same person who raped his wife. In a loud voice, I announced I was going to let Harry loose. That caused even more mayhem. Just before I let him go I could see the back door of the bar would not open. The suspect was trapped.”
At that point, with the rapist cornered, there was no reason to let the dog loose.
The suspect looked young and he was – just a few days over sixteen. Back at the precinct Barry began writing up the endless reports the department requires after making a felony arrest, a task that can take up to three hours. He was only one hour into it when the suspect began asking strange questions.
“First he asks me how I know where to put information down on the form,” Barry recalled. “Then he starts telling me how amazed he is I know how to write all this stuff down. I told him if he stayed in school he might learn to read and write too. I tried to get back to the questions but then he interrupts again and asks how I learned to shoot. At this point I was getting annoyed. I told him I was the one in charge of asking questions, not him. Then he tells me he’s amazed I know how to do all these things when I’m blind and have a seeing eye dog. I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Are you really serious? Do you really think I’m blind and go out on patrol with a seeing eye dog?’ I even called my lieutenant over and asked him to say it again. For some of the stuff that happens on this job you have to have a witness, otherwise no one would believe you.”
Tomorrow: Read about Barry’s extraordinary experiences in the aftermath of 9/11, work that would eventually take his life.