In 2010, Bennett Hindssaw flashing police lights coming from behind his red Honda on W. 97th St.
“Suddenly I had three 9-mm. handguns pointed at me,” he tells me. “Three plainclothes cops, including a female, were screaming at me to ‘Get out of the f—— car.’ They searched my whole car, screaming, ‘Where’s the f—— drugs?’”
Only after they handcuffed him did they learn that Hinds was a retired police officer, once a member of an elite all-minority NYPD unit called The PEP Squad.
In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. sparked riots in Harlem, Mayor John Lindsey and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell met with then-police commissioner Patrick Murphy to deal with the uptown community’s outrage over NYPD abuses, including rampant stop-and-frisks.
“The day I got stopped and searched in 2010, I realized not much had really changed since 1969,” says Hinds, author of the self-published “Where the Sun Didn’t Shine,” about his five years in the NYPD’s PEP Squad.
“Yes, today there are more black and Hispanic cops. More minorities in the brass,” he says. “But the same stop-and frisk policy that created the PEP Squad is still NYPD’s answer to getting drugs and guns off the street. The racial attitudes are still the same in America. That’s why I’m not surprised by a Ramarley Graham or a Trayvon Martin getting gunned down for nothing in 2012.”
Hinds says in 1969 he was a solo beat cop in Harlem, chasing hookers and junkies off corners when he met two black PEP Squad cops at a crime scene. “They were young, street smart, and took no BS from anybody,” he says.
Hinds, a Trinidadian immigrant, volunteered for the special unit, the Preventive Enforcement Patrol.
“There were only 20 of us, aged 21 to 28, working Harlem,” he says. “Plus three sergeants and a lieutenant. Most PEP cops came from tough black neighborhoods and hated these street punks selling drugs and committing violent crimes against their own people. So they were unbelievably tough on the suspects.”
Promised a detective’s gold shield, Hinds went undercover as a CCNY student for a semester, making 15 major drug collars.
“I was forced at gunpoint to snort heroin to prove I wasn’t a cop,” he says. “But NYPD didn’t give me the gold shield. Another time, at a midtown precinct, three white cops gave me a ferocious beating before I could ID myself. They claimed they mistook me for a wanted suspect.”
Hinds says a white NYPD inspector visited him in the hospital, promising he’d get a gold shield if he didn’t bring charges or talk to the press.
“I kept quiet,” Hinds says. “And I didn’t get the gold. Back on the street with PEP Squad, I made over 1,000 collars and still never got the gold.”
But Hinds loved the job and compares the PEP Squad to the Tuskegee Airmen and the black cavalry unit in the movie “Glory.”
“We were a groundbreaking all-minority police unit in urban America,” he says. “We lost two guys in the line of duty in five years. One in an assassination in a Harlem apartment building where heroin-pusher assassins opened the elevator roof hatch and shot one of our guys dead inside the elevator.”
Then a PEP cop was fingered in the Knapp Commission for robbing drug dealers.
“One bad apple, and the whole unit was disbanded,” says Hinds, of Manhattan, whose book is available on the Internet. “But ‘Where the Sun Didn’t Shine’ tells the whole story of the PEP Squad in Harlem, which today is a completely different, gentrified place than the drug, gun, and rat-infested slum we patrolled. A Harlem where I learned from amazing street cops who could spot a narcotics buy a block away, know if a guy had one or two guns on him by the way he walked. The PEP Squad cops didn’t need random stop-and-frisks. They had an X-ray vision learned by growing up on those same streets. That’s what NYPD needs again.”
Oh, that search of his car in 2010?
“Those three cops were found guilty of violating my civil rights at an NYPD departmental trial,” he says.