Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Cop: A Profile of Vernon J. Geberth

Getting There

Geberth grew up in Mt. Vernon, a suburb of New York City, and his ultimate goal for most of his life was to become a New York City cop, specifically a homicide detective.  Toward that end he prepared, and even over-prepared.  "Most people didn't go into police service with a college background," he says. "I went in with three years of college."  He attended Iona College, a business school, but despite watching the other students direct their careers toward business administration, he persisted in his desire to be a cop.  He knew that, for him, it was a calling.  When he was finally appointed to the NYPD and went to the police academy, he ended up among the top five students in his class.  As a result, he was selected for a specialized unit. 

Vernon Geberth in uniform
Vernon Geberth in uniform

"I was assigned to TPF, the Tactical Patrol Force, and there were only three hundred cops assigned to that unit citywide.  That may sound like a lot to the average person but with thirty thousand police officers in the city at that time, being one of three hundred was a pretty impressive assignment.  Because we were TPF and the major concern was urban rioting and criminal street violence, we received special training in sniper fire, tactical shotgun and machine gun, riot control, and other skills to confront this menace.  We were also considered the 'new incorruptibles.' At the time, sadly, corruption was systemic in major cities, and we were told if we avoided this dishonesty and did our jobs honorably we'd get promoted, so within two and a half years I was promoted to detective.  This was back in the late sixties and early seventies, when the level of street crime and violence was unprecedented. Cab drivers were being killed, criminals were jumping on a commercial truck and stealing the products right out of the truck as it slowed to make a turn; it was like something out of a bad movie." 

Geberth was then assigned to a street crime unit.  "At that time, it had a name like 'Taxi Truck Surveillance Unit, the forerunner of The Street Crime Unit,' but the bottom line was that I was in combat.  Here I was, a detective in street clothes, making apprehensions for robbery and weapons.  Actually, it was fun to go to work.  Eventually we managed to get this condition under control and I was reassigned to precinct detective work and eventually the robbery division.  In a roundabout way, upon promotion to sergeant, he returned to the TPF and became supervisor of a spirited unit.  "Now I could make twice or three times as many arrests.   And in a short span of time, I ended up back as a supervisor in Investigations."  When he finally got to Homicide, he was assigned to the busiest unit in the city the Seventh Homicide Zone.

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