High and Tight: Did Bad Barbering Beset Undercover Operation?
William K. Rashbaum reports in the New York Times:
The men came in one by one, sat down in the chair in front of the shop’s newest barber, and got their hair cut. They looked like customers at pretty much any other barber shop around the city. They paid, and went on their way.
But they were not like other customers. They were all undercover police officers.
And so was the man cutting their hair.
They were all in the shop, Who’s First Barber Shop II, on East 149th Street in the Hub section of the Bronx, trying to collect evidence during the early stages of what would become a sweeping ticket-fixing investigation, according to court documents, police records and people briefed on the case. The owner, a police officer named Jose Ramos, was believed to be aiding drug dealers.
But few of the undercover officers, it turns out, came back after their haircuts, according to one person with knowledge of the matter, and ended up contributing little to the eventual success of the investigation.
The reason they did not return had nothing to do with crime or criminals. It was simply because they did not like the way their colleague, the undercover barber, cut their hair, according to the person briefed on the case. And that is despite the fact that the Police Department was picking up the tab.
The NYPD paid for an officer to recertify himself as a barber and rent a chair in a barber owned by a fellow officer who was suspected of aiding drug dealers. Fellow officers from the Department of Internal Affairs were supposed to come in for haircuts and buy drugs. No drugs were purchased.
Part of the problem, according to anonymous sources, was that few of the undercover officers were willing to come back for a second haircut. “The consensus was just that he gave bad haircuts,” one of the people briefed on the matter told the Times, “They just didn’t like his haircuts.”
Somewhere, Frank Serpico is shaking his head in disgust. You’d think undercover officers would be resigned to bad hair in the line of duty, mullets, even.
Or, maybe this is NYPD face-saving and nobody was dealing drugs out of the barber shop. According to the story, the undercover barber didn’t witness any significant criminal activity in the few days he worked in the shop during the summer of 2009.
[Photo credit: Diamondduste, Creative Commons.]