NYPD detectives address ‘Crime in the Streets’ in sociology lecture

Retired New York City Police Detectives Austin (Tim) Francis Muldoon III and John Bourges gave a public lecture last Wednesday about “Crime in the Streets.”

Robert Jackall, professor of sociology, coordinated the lecture, which was held in the Stetson Faculty Lounge. Jackall brings police attorneys, prosecutors and judges to the campus almost every year in conjunction with one of his classes. Muldoon and Bourges have spoken at Williams three times.

“During my long fieldwork with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), I worked more than a year and a half with the 34th precinct detective squad,” said Jackall. “Along with many other detectives, I worked alongside Tim and John, learned about their cases, followed them out into the field, interviewed them, and have had innumerable conversations with them about crime and police work.”

Jackall added, “These two men are among the very best police investigators and interrogators that I met in the long course of my fieldwork.”

Bourges began the lecture by discussing how his career, which he categorizes as typical of most detectives, progressed. He began his police career in 1981, serving as a uniformed officer in the NYPD’s 24th precinct. After working in the plainclothes and then the narcotics divisions, Bourges joined the 34th precinct detective squad in 1988.

In 1994, he served as the homicide coordinator for the 33rd precinct before he was transferred in 1998 to the Manhattan North Homicide Squad. Bourges retired earlier this year.

“At that time, [the 33rd precinct] were a fairly busy squad, and they had about 70 homicides a year,” said Bourges, adding that later, “In this particular precinct, we averaged a homicide every third day.”

As a detective, Bourges explained, “You were asked to come to a particular location, where someone was lying dead, shot or dying and your job is to solve it. Your job is then also to be responsible for [the case] at that crime [scene], trial, and conviction.”

Bourges explained that for each case, detectives would split up the jobs. “We always worked as a team,” he said. “We would try to devise a plan amongst ourselves to get as much work done as quickly as we could so we could get as much information as possible as quickly as we could.”

After securing and documenting the crime scene, the detectives said that one of the first things they do is active canvassing.

“You have to go out and see if there is a holy grail,” said Bourges. “The holy grail is a witness.”

One of the challenges the detectives brought up was the critical importance of paperwork and documenting a criminal investigation.

“One of the things you learn very early on in your experience is that whatever you put down on paper, it is there,” said Bourges. “And all of the sudden you realize how important this paperwork is, as a legal document, when you sit down on a witness stand.”

Another detail often brought up in court is whether the suspect came to the precinct voluntarily to be questioned or whether the suspect was physically taken into custody for questioning. The difference between these details, explained the detectives, often determined whether a statement was admissible in court.

“One of the issues of custody is the length of the interrogation,” explained Muldoon. “If it [the interrogation] is a 5, 6, 6.5 hour time period, many courts will decide right off the bat whether he was asleep or not, he was in custody and should have been Mirandized,” he said, referring to Miranda rights, which advise the suspect of his constitutional right against self-incrimination and of the right to have a lawyer present during any interrogation.

“Miranda, of course, is a constitutional right,” said Muldoon. “But, the way you present it all of the time has a lot of effect whether they talk to you or not.”

Muldoon then explained several actual criminal cases, from crime scene to conviction, and how their team solved these crimes.

After spending two years in the Nyack Police, Muldoon transferred to the NYPD in 1981, where he served as uniform patrol officer of the 46th precinct in the Bronx. After spending time in Manhattan working in Narcotics, Muldoon joined the 34th precinct detective squad in 1988. After moving to the Manhattan North Homicide Squad in 1997, Muldoon retired in 1999 and is currently an investigator for the New York City school system.

Muldoon told of a murder case he investigated in 1991.

“We got a call on a Sunday morning from a uniformed officer informing us that an 80-year-old man was found dead by his homecare provider and that it might be a possible homicide,” said Muldoon, who passed around crime scene photographs.

Though he suspected the homecare provider was the perpetrator from the start, Muldoon discussed the steps he took to bring this criminal to justice.

“I took a very detailed statement from him [the homecare provider] regarding what he discovered, [and] how he spent the night. The reason for all of this detail is because his story is bulls–t, frankly. And, you want build this house of cards – you want to make it has big as you can because the bigger it gets, the faster it’s going to come down,” said Muldoon.

“When it’s all said and done, you go over the statement together and if there’s corrections to be made, you initial the correction and he initials it – which is good actually because it shows he actually read it,” he added.

After this statement was officially signed, Muldoon said that they removed it from the interrogation room so that the suspect would not be able to see it when his story became inconsistent.

Muldoon explained that once the interrogation began, “There’s some basic principles you want to follow. [First,] minimize the crime. You also want to make the victim seem like the bad guy.”

Additionally, the detectives discussed how most people, with the exception of serious criminals, are susceptible to emotional pressure during interrogations.

“You have got to give them a window, an out, you’ve got to tell them this is such a terrible thing,” said Bourges. At the end of the trial, the detectives explained that the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case agreed for the suspect to plead guilty to a lesser charge, as she was afraid that the jury would find that the defendant had been interrogated for too long.

In another case, the detectives explained how they can make mistakes.

“We have, both of us, obtained confessions from individuals who are not guilty,” said Bourges, who illustrated this with a story of a young Brooklyn man, who essentially confessesed to a being an associate of a murderer, which caused him to be charged with the murder itself.

After determining the suspect was in the hospital at the time of the crime, the suspect said that he fabricated the story just to explain a domestic injury and scars on his chest.

“Would you tell your girlfriend that you got shot during a drug deal and a robbery or that you were living with someone and he stabbed you in the back,” Muldoon said the suspect asked him.

Students in Jackall’s class enjoyed and benefited from the lecture.

“In class we spent a lot of time discussing the police departments, specifically the NYPD, but it was all pretty abstract,” said Liz Just ’04. “Hearing Detectives Bourges and Muldoon talk about specific stories made the concepts we learned about in class a lot easier to relate to. When we’re reading articles about crimes out of books or reading packets, it’s hard to picture the actual people who were involved, but it was neat to hear real people give a personal voice to these stories.”

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