Book Reviews



Detective -- The Inspirational Story of the Trailblazing Cop Who Wouldn't Quit

by Kathy Burke (with Neal Hirschfeld)

Review by Richard Sheppard


Author Kathy Burke was an only-child knock-about gal from Queens, who, after admiring an exemplary neighborhood cop, became one in 1968. While she wasn't the first NYPD "policewoman" she was certainly among a small cadre of females in the NYPD when she started out. (The NYPD eventually discarded the terms, "policeman" and "policewoman" in favor or the gender neutral "police officer".) Apart from her street exploits as a narc-busting undercover decoy, as a woman in the predominantly man's world of police work, she faced many internal departmental challenges as well. She freely admits her tough, father-less upbringing made her outspoken to the point of fisticuffs, so she was a lightening rod in whatever police capacity she worked in.

She had one close brush with death by gun in her early years, when she had her own gun wrenched from her in a drug-bust gone bad. She managed, despite her diminutive size to do some exemplary police work wherever she was assigned. But as she admits, her gender, combined with her admitted chip-on-her-shoulder, generated confrontations within the department, including sexual harassment charges and lawsuits. In one particular precinct, if her story is accurate, she was treated as shabbily and even as dangerously as any cop might treat another. Still, she persevered.

The final act of her police story involved some low-level mob types, a misunderstood surveillance set-up, and the tragic shooting death of her male partner Tony Venditti outside a Queens diner in 1986. Burke herself came within a few inches of death, taking a bullet in her upper torso. What followed this bloody event was enough to try anyone: the shooters were acquitted in four separate trials, her own recovery was painful and debilitating, and her partner's family shunned her and even partially blamed her for the death of her partner. The entire affair was human nature at its worst as people struggled with a fine cop's death and the aftermath.

Burke coped by joining a support group of cops involved in just these kind of frantic incidents. She toughed out the whispers, a failing marriage, and the opprobrium of her NYPD enemies, who one senses cravenly wished her ill. She reached out and helped fellow cops who also endured unimaginably bad episodes, and all-in-all, exhibited an internal toughness that was born of her Queens-streets upbringing. The name Kathy Burke probably still exhibits controversy in the NYPD, and both those who support and oppose her career can find supporting arguments for their case. In the end, hers is a story of perseverance and living life on her own terms.