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Local author steps out from behind the badge

She’s been to more schools than a tenured professor with four doctorates, but cop turned author Kathy Burke still can’t seem to wrap her mind around the fact that Brooklyn isn’t made up of the same streets on which she used to bust drug dealers 30 years ago. “I spent five years working in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, you know, all the garden spots,” she recalls with a touch of finely-honed sarcasm that often comes with a police badge. “I worked some great cases over there.” Names like Bushwick Avenue bring back a flood of memories to Burke, who spent the early part of her illustrious and inspiring career undercover, masquerading as a high school student sometimes, a down-on-her-luck young pregnant mother on other occasions, hoping to score some drugs from neighborhood dealers. “I remember early on in my career my partner and I served this search warrant on a house on Bushwick Avenue,” she recalled as the memories rushed over her. “Now I’m 5’3” and my partner is this 6’4” Clint Eastwood type. Our guy goes out a window, but dopey doesn’t realize that it’s a two-story drop, so he grabs onto something and becomes a hang job. What’s worse is I go shooting out after him like Mary Poppins. Luckily my partner caught me in time.” “It was always an exciting adventure in Brooklyn,” she says in a way that assures you that she has many other hair-raising stories to tell. Many of these stories are in “Detective,” a personal, sometimes painful look back at the career of the NYPD’s most highly-decorated female detective. Burke and her co-author, prize-winning reporter and Daily News editor Neal Hirschfeld, will be reminiscing about her days in Brooklyn, as well as her many storied tour of duties in undercover narcotics and investigating the city’s biggest mafia families, at the Court Street Barnes & Noble during a special reading of her book on January 30 at 7 p.m. Growing up in Queens in the 1960s (she still lives in the Astoria home where she grew up); Burke recalled that she always wanted to be like Waldo Taylor, the neighborhood beat cop. “He was bigger than God,” she remembered. “He was the one that took you home when you were in trouble. If a tree fell down on your house, he would be there to help you shore up your house. He was everybody’s hero.” “He was shocked when I told him that I was going to join the force,” she said. Back in 1968, only one percent of the NYPD was female. At the academy, Burke was one of 10 women in a class of 950 recruits. But her femininity, as well as her youthful looks, worked to her advantage. Burke hadn’t completed academy training before her superiors chose her to go undercover in city high schools and colleges, looking for drug dealers. As outlined in her book, her career was peppered with great stories and successes that Stephen J. Cannell, Dick Wolf and Michael Mann could not dream up. Her 23-year career also came with its share of failures, most notably the time she was forced to sue a fellow cop – “a dinosaur,” in her eyes – and the time she and her partner were shot outside a Queens diner. “I did not know I was shot,” she remembered. “I never heard the gun. All I remember was being on the floor.” The gunman was standing above her, she said, her recollection so vivid that she remembered seeing the cylinder turn in the pistol before another shot thundered forward, embedding itself in her hair. “I never saw anything more,” she said. “When I woke up I was perpendicular to my partner. They had fired two bullets into his head.” While her fellow officers rushed to her bedside as she recuperated in the hospital, she had to mend the post-traumatic rifts in her mind on her own. “That was the most disabling, to realize that a man had died next to me,” she said. “It’s hard to touch someone’s head and feel their brain matter, realizing, ‘I shouldn’t be touching this’ and coming to terms with that.” “Detective” is Burke’s personal story of survival from the front lines of crime fighting, which at the same time gives the reader a good look at the funny, honorable and sometimes ugly faces of the NYPD. “It’s a story about life, about the fact that some things come your way that aren’t always pleasant,” she explained. “But you have to take that negative and turn it around.” “Detective” is available at most major booksellers. The Court Street Barnes & Noble is located at 106 Court Street in Brooklyn Heights. To learn more about this or any other readings at the Court Street Barnes & Noble, call (718) 246-4996 or log onto www.bn.com.

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