DiGiacomo, DEA head and 41-year cop, leaves NYPD - The Chief (2024)

BY RICHARD KHAVKINE

Paul DiGiacomo’s NYPD career spanned high-crime epochs, the crack scourge, the 9/11 terror attacks, Covid and also the numerous successes, challenges and tragedies that a decades-long tenure on the job will bring.

After 41 years as a city cop, DiGiacomo, detective second-grade, a union man since early in his NYPD tenure and president of the Detectives' Endowment Association since 2020, has left the force. But he won’t stray too far. He’s invested too much.

A Brooklyn native, DiGiacomo joined what was then the city’s Housing Authority Police Department in 1983, the start of his career as a New York city police officer dovetailing with that of his father, a New York City Transit cop, father and son on occasion meeting on patrol in Coney Island.

Called to a family dispute in one of his first days on the job, he and his training officer arrived to find a veritable arsenal in the apartment. “And that's when I realized this job is for real and you could really get hurt,” DiGiacomo said during a phone interview last week. “The adrenaline rush … there's nothing like it. But you learned the job quick.”

DiGiacomo would transfer to the NYPD in 1985, patrolling the 70th Precinct in central Brooklyn, and then getting assigned to the Brooklyn South Task Force, from where he was elected Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegate.

He worked plainclothes, narcotics and major cases, earning promotion to detective in 1993. He moved to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Investigation Division the next year, working on gun and narcotics task forces and from where was elected the DEA’s delegate. He then served as the union’s sergeant-at-arms and as the union’s treasurer before being elected vice president in 2012, winning re-election in 2016. He succeeded Michael J. Palladino as president in January 2020.

As union president, he settled two contracts for his members, the last expiring in June 2027, netting them pay increases of nearly 28 percent and enhanced health benefits, and not trading anything in return.

“So everything in the union is solid, it’s in good hands, and it’s in a good spot for the union to move forward,” he said last week.

But, he added, there are still battles to be won for the roughly 5,200 detectives, most of them waged outside of the union’s four walls.

“Their fight is going to be out on the street. What's happening to the members on a regular basis, such as the uniform details, the assaults on cops, the prosecutions on the arrests that they make” will need addressing, he said. Replenishing a rank whose headcount has declined by about 2,500 detectives since 2001, even as technology has made their investigative tasks more complex, will also be top of the list.

Much of that will fall on the shoulders of his successor, Scott Munroe, a 32-year NYPD officer and the union’s vice president during the last few months of DiGiacomo’s DEA tenure.

More solemn tasks

DiGiacomo understood his role as union official encompassed much more than securing deserved pay and benefits for his colleagues. A more solemn task, that of preserving the memory of fallen cops, and securing benefits for their spouses and children, was principal among his other obligations.

Speaking by phone, he recited the names of cops killed on the job during his time on the job. He recalled the circ*mstances and the names of their widows and kids, many with whom he stays in touch.

Detective Louis Miller Jr. was among the first, gunned down responding to a burglary in progress on March 11, 1987, in Flatbush. DiGiacomo and his sergeant, trailing just behind, put Miller in the back of a patrol car and drove him to Kings County Hospital, where he died. “Louie was an amazing, amazing training officer,” DiGiacomo said. “And he was a very, very good detective.”

In August 1988, Officer Joseph Galapo was accidentally shot during a narcotics arrest. Galapo, whose uncle owned a discount store right across from Transit Bureau District 34 in Coney Island, knew both DiGiacomo and his father. The 30-year-old cop left behind a wife and three sons.

There were others, among them Officer Robert Machate, an anti-crime cop with the Brooklyn South Task Force. The 25-year-old cop was killed during a fierce struggle with a suspect in March 1989, also in Flatbush. His wife would give birth to a daughter three months later.

In June of that year, Officer Jeff Herman, a friend of DiGiacomo’s, was shot responding to a domestic violence incident in Brooklyn’s Prospect Leffers Garden neighborhood. “He was a great cop. Good guy, too,” DiGiacomo said of Herman, who was also 25, and left a wife and son.

More recently, Detective Brian Simonsen, who had pulled up to a robbery in progress at a Queens cellphone store on Feb. 12, 2019, was killed in a friendly-fire incident.

Simonsen, a DEA delegate from the 102nd Precinct in central Queens, had attended a delegates meeting that morning and was excused from duty. The married 42-year-old, 19-year police veteran nonetheless went to work.

DiGiacomo, who spoke with Simonsen following the delegate’s meeting, was instrumental in getting state lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation, known as the “Detective Brian Simonsen's Law,” that would require wireless telephone service providers to disable stolen cellphones.

“We’ve been trying to do this for quite some time. And I finally got some traction on it,” DiGiacomo said. “There’s a tremendous market value on the black market for these phones,” which can sell for upward of $1,000 on the street.

The legislation, which awaits Governor Hochul’s signature, “will cut down not only on robberies, burglaries, larcenies, assaults, murders, anything, because everything revolves around cellphones today,” DiGiacomo said.

The September 11 terror attacks, too, took a toll, of course, and continue to do so. Dozens of detectives developed illnesses, predominantly cancers, from having taken part in the rescue and recovery efforts. “We were at the morgue, we were at the landfill and we were at ground zero,” DiGiacomo said.

To this day, nearly 200 detectives have died of complications from illnesses caused by the toxic dust and debris. And there’s never a week that the union office does not get a call about a detective falling ill or dying as a result of exposure, DiGiacomo said.

Among his administration’s significant accomplishments, he said, was securing line-of-duty death benefits for the eight detectives felled by the coronavirus, the most lost by any NYPD rank. “We paid the ultimate price, not only in combat, but also with Covid and with post 9/11 cancers as well,” he said.

DiGiacomo will now take some time to think about what’s next for him. But a cop through and through, he’s likely to stay devoted and dedicated to those in the department, even if the day-to-day camaraderie won’t now be the ever-present factor it’s been for more than four decades.

“I'm going to miss a lot of things,” but most of all representing his members and fellow cops, he said.

“It's a very special rank, and there's no other rank like it in this department or in this world,” DiGiacomo said. “It's always New York City detectives who do the very important work. Yes, they do. And they do it with professionalism, dignity, and they do it very, very well.”

Officially, they’re going to do it with for sure one fewer, but one whose support of his fellow cops remains steadfast.

richardk@thechiefleader.com

DiGiacomo, DEA head and 41-year cop, leaves NYPD - The Chief (2024)

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