Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dave Berjeski, the Common Superman...

This story is in tribute to a very dear friend, now deceased, whose daughter is compiling stories about him for her sister.

It was a hot summer afternoon in 1974. It was Detroit and the 13th Precinct and we were cops protecting the lands and the citizens on a shift filled with young guys on fire. My name is Larry Fowler and I was partnered with Mike Cardinal, as usual. Mike and I had grown up together in Dearborn and found ourselves together after stints in the service. It was synchronistic and we were perfectly matched. Mike the logical and Larry live on the edge.

We worked with a gentleman - and he was - named David Berjeski. David was a big man, a little bit crazy and one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. He and I hit it off from our first meeting and became solid friends quickly. There were some guys who didn't care for Dave because he was bigger than life and a force to be reckoned with. They just didn't understand him and it was their loss. I understood him and loved pretty much everything about him.

This day, we were working our regular scout car, 13-4 and our scout car area encompassed Woodward to the west, I-75 to the east, Highland Park to the north and Arden Park to the south. It was an area that had everything, just like the rest of the precinct. It had ghetto and dark alleys, it had mansions and high rollers. It was retail, it was wholesale and it was a drug dealing heaven. Detroit's first gangs started up in our scout car area and it was the funniest thing: West siders never crossed Woodward and East siders respected the same boundary. We believed that the west siders feared the east siders and never the twain should meet.

Dave was working a one man car, 13-41. It's seems a little crazy that we even had a one man car in our precinct. Detroit had just earned the moniker "Murder City" and the 13th precinct led the place in homicides that summer. It was a pretty dangerous place. The concept of the one man car was that of a report unit. The cops working it were tasked with taking reports on B&E's, larcenies, trespassing and all the other misdemeanor/after-the-fact type crimes. The one man car was essentially prohibited from responding to active crimes or other violent type activities. This policy wasn't always followed to the letter. Especially by Dave.

On the radio we heard, "13-4, the National Bank on Woodward, robbery-in-progress." "Roger that" we responded and took off for the bank. We weren't that far away, two minutes maybe. It was a high adrenaline run, the kind we lived for. Of course, you never knew if it was false or not, and you wouldn't know until you found out first hand. We treated them all as in-progress, live runs and had policy driven approaches, planned out to the letter.

As we got there and parked down the street, we could see another scout car parked on the other side of the bank. Who the hell was that, we wondered, and how the hell did they get there so fast? It wasn't long before we found out. As we walked carefully up to the side of the bank, Mike went to the rear and I stayed at the front. We saw no activity, heard no sounds and it appeared that everything was normal. No one had called in that they were there and no one gave a situation report. I looked over and saw 13-41 on the blue bubble sitting on the roof of the other scout car. Oh, shit, I thought, it was Dave.

I leaned around the corner of the building and peeked in the window. What I saw almost made me fall to my knees. Inside there were people laying all over the floor. No tellers were in evidence and standing in the middle of the room, a huge gun in each hand was Dave, looking around calmly as if nothing were out of sorts. Dave always carried two guns, as most of us did. Our primary weapon and a smaller back up gun. Not Dave. Dave carried two massive .44 Magnums, one in his holster and one in his belt. He had both of them out now.

"Radio" I called, "Everything is under control" as I knew it was. I tapped on the glass and Dave looked over at me. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "It's just me, man." I smiled back and shook my head. I wasn't really surprised and actually, I found it funny as hell! Just about then, Mike burst through the back entrance and stopped in his tracks. I saw his eyes widen, then a grin come to his face. It was all cool, Dave was in charge.

Dave had responded to the run against policy. Way against policy but we knew Dave. He wouldn't go in blindly but would calmly assess the situation and make decisions. As he entered the bank carefully, he couldn't see anything amiss, much less armed robbers taking over the bank. Since he was by himself, with no backup, he decided to take control and ordered everyone in the bank down on the floor. No one argued with him and got down quickly. If there were robbers in the bank, they wouldn't go down quietly.

"Radio, everything is under control, no robbery in progress," I called as Dave allowed everyone to get to their feet. He explained about the radio run and apologized for the inconvenience. Mike and I could barely stop from laughing out loud. We would later.

The whole incident was caught by the surveillance cameras in the lobby. It wasn't long before a still picture taken from the tapes began to circulate. It showed Dave standing there, a fierce look on his face, waving those two 44's. Dave was now a legend. And that is how I will always remember him. A great cop and a rebel, for sure, and certainly not a man who would shy away from personal danger. If you can't tell, I loved the guy.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your memory of my dad. He touched a lot of people during his short life!

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  2. Good story, Larry! But then I have always loved mystery books and cop shows. My favorite was NYPD Blue. I wonder how come they've never based one in Detroit. Donna Cunningham

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