Saturday, October 02, 2010

Super Cops: A True Story

The day I got my "adult" library card had all the feel of a rite of passage. Our sixth grade class was bussed from our rural elementary school into the city, where we were taken into a back room at the public library. A venerable elderly librarian gave us a lecture about the responsibilities and privileges we now possessed, we each filled out a form, and we were given the sacrosanct card itself (which in lieu of today's magnetic strip, actually contained a piece of metal). We were then set free, for the first time, in the grown up portion of the library, able to check out absolutely any books we desired, without restriction. After grabbing a few baseball books, I cruised randomly through the aisles. I alighted on a colorful red book called The Super Cops by L.H. Whittemore. When I saw that the subtitle promised "The true story of the cops called Batman and Robin," being a big superhero fan, I was sold.

The book was already 17 years old by the time I read it, and containing accounts of the New York ghetto, it was nothing that a small-town Wisconsinite could directly relate to. But this didn't stop me from becoming absolutely consumed by this story. Even now, twenty years later, having read it only once, I can still tell you many vivid details about the short but incredibly eventful police careers of Dave Greenberg (nicknamed "Batman") and his partner Bob Hantz ("Robin"). That is, if you care. Problematically for an excited 12-year-old, I didn't know anybody who did. I do remember informing my mom about how Greenberg and Hantz shut down the Hayes Brothers drug operation, but it didn't seem to captivate her the way that LA Law did at the time.

I also remember quoting lines from this book at school. But unlike if I would have quoted something from Beetlejuice or Short Circuit, nobody cared. I did get a reaction once when apropos of nothing, I spat out the line "This is probationary patrol officers Greenberg and Hantz. We just made an off-duty narcotics arrest in the seven-seven precinct." A classmate challenged me by saying, "You don't even know what that means." "I sure do," I replied, "'Probationary patrol officers' means that they haven't become actual policemen yet, and 'off-duty' means that they were on their own time, 'narcotics' means drugs, 'a precinct' is an area that police are assigned to cover, and the 'seven-seven precinct' was the absolute worst in New York City. In other words, these guys who didn't even have their badges yet went looking to bust people for drugs in their free time in the worst parts of the city they could find." I remember my classmate being impressed, but not enough to ask to read the book himself.

As I was required to do, I returned the book to the library, and I never saw it again. And in the years that followed, I never heard any reference to Greenberg and Hantz. I didn't forget them, though. Every so often I'd see or hear something that reminded me of something from the book, even though I was apparently the only person I knew who had heard about this book, much less read it.

And if the World Wide Web had never been invented, that's probably how it would have stayed. I would have a pristine image of Greenberg and Hantz, last seen on the final page of Super Cops receiving promotions to the rank of detective. I would have been alone in my admiration of them, and their ultimate fates mine alone to imagine in any way I saw fit.

What I have since learned from Google is that although their story had apparently faded into obscurity by the time I discovered it, the publication of the book in the early 1970s garnered them some degree of fame. New York magazine ran a fascinating story about them. To my surprise, I found that there was a movie based on the book. Although that film underperformed, it supposedly inspired a much more successful TV series, one Starsky and Hutch.

I've also confirmed that I am not on the only person to have read (or enjoyed) the book. A total of six reviews have been posted on Amazon, an average of one every two years. All of them are five stars. The top review comes from a guy I wished I knew when I was a kid. Maybe we could have played "Super Cops" together:

From when I was 9 years old, The Super Cops was, and still is, one of my favorite books. I liked the idea of them working to save a community. The villains were more or less drug dealers. David Greenberg and Robert Hantz will always be heroes of mine. In college I did a little bit of research on the two of them, including speaking with real cops.

Unfortunately, his real life research results in some cold water thrown on my fandom:

In fact, their exploits were certainly exaggerated. The end of their careers was somewhat tragic. David Greenberg went to jail twice for white collar crime. Robert Hantz was accused of smuggling marijuana, and lost his Detective's shield because of it.

Ironically, about the same time I was becoming a fan of these guys, the New York Times was running a story about Greenberg's latest downfall.

Although part of me wishes I had never received this addendum to the book, another part of me welcomes not only the added knowledge, but also the implications of the receipt of that knowledge. For one, it is a concrete representation that obscurity is downright obsolete, and experience no longer need be in isolation. As long as you have an Internet connection, if interested, you can find like-minded souls.

Second, I am intrigued by the idea that narratives can be sustained through the end of any one medium. The story of Greenberg's conviction was only a story because of the book, so one has to credit Whittemore's narrative with influencing culture. But then again, we also see the limitations of Whittemore's influence, as the enduring image of these men that he wished to convey to the world has been tarnished. In lieu of a second printing of this book, the Amazon reviews essentially become permanently inscribed, and unavoidable, postscripts. The fact that the final word of a narrative no longer rests with the author, but rests instead with the subjects and the consumers, is fascinating.

And speaking of the final word, that's all I have to say--unless anyone wants to hear about an off duty narcotics arrest by probationary patrolmen in the seven-seven precinct.


Blogger joshua said...

nice. well, i havent read a complete book on my own steam since, jeeze idk when. one series of books i actually was a fan of, the black stallion. sounds kinda wierd, but they caught my attention. i read 2 of them, about 2/3 of the way through. never been the biggest fan of reading, so this is pretty extreme for me. the stories tell of a young boy who is shipwrecked and saved by a horse. the two survive on an island for some time, and when they are rescued, the boy trains the horse to become a great racer. idk, im sure u read all of em, you've prolly read a million books haha. if not, check em out

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Kayan said...

I've read this book more than a few times. I remember my brother bringing it home from the library when I was a kid and reading it when he wasn't home. I've read it several more times since. I wish I had a copy. I checked my local library a while back and they didn't have one. This book spawned my love for cop stories and cop shows. I've never seen the movie. I've always been afraid it will cheapen the impact of the book.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

I too have read this book many times. It provides a fascinating insight into New York City in the late 60's and early 70s as well as being a very entertaining read. It also provides a good example of dedication to doing a good job and going beyond the minimum requirement to truly get a job well done. I still have my copy, which came to me quite by accident back in the mid 70s, (though it may be still buried in a box after my last move) and if you would like to read it again give me some way to contact you (I can't seem to find any email address on the blog) and I think we can work something out. I would not part with it, but could copy it or perhaps scan it to PDF.


9:08 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

That's very kind of you Vince! Part of me wants to avoid re-reading it so as to keep my memories pristine. But if I do feel moved to re-read it at some point, I see that used copies are very cheap on Amazon, so that's the route I would probably go (and save you the trouble :-).

But thanks again for the offer. And if you want to get in touch with me for any reason, I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook and Twitter. There aren't too many people out there named Azor Cigelske :-)

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is definitely better than the movie. I just caught it on TCM.

2:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i worked with them back in the late 60's early 70's and was unaware of this book. i will try to find it and read it but i will say they really didn't have to fabricate their to much of their careers they did some crazy things. as a matter of fact when they made their first arrest in the 77 pct i was the officer who questioned them on who they were and where they worked. i was a little shocked when they answered they were in the 77 and were starting here in a few days.

i,m tony and i am a retired nypd officer

11:11 AM  
Blogger Azor said...

Thanks so much for the comment, Tony! If I went back in time and told my 12-year-old self that one day I would hear from someone who knew and worked with those guys, my mind would have been blown! Actually, it's still blown!

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Mona said...

I just actually got this book from a used bookstore for 95 cents and seriously could not put it down. The only thing was that I wasn't sure if it was a 'true story' as in these are real people or 'true story' as in this is a fictional account of fictional people called Batman and Robin. It's a bit depressing to learn about the downfall of the real men but the book is still awesome. I'm usually the sort of person who puts down a book if it has cursing in it, but it just seemed to match so well.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the film "The Super Cops" is on TCM right now. I've likely caught this movie a couple of dozen times through the years and absolutely love it. Pretty crazy how often I've come across it actually. I discovered it about the same time I found "Serpico." Having my memory jogged about Dave Greenberg and Rob Hantz I did a google search and discovered the sad news. I'll be honest, it's a little chattering what became of them. Anyway, great posts, really enjoyed reading them.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Abby Couture said...

I seen greenberg go up againt 20 punk kids in the 80,s They ran there asses off he also wrote play it to a bust about his time when not in the 77 pct plus the script for a book called body body who got the body Which i thought was great but never panned out daves down here in fl Fishing

12:11 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home