Reviewed by James Brookman
I've never seen NYPD Blue on the television but I suspect that drama about life in New York's Police Department comes nowhere near the excitement recorded in A Cop for Christ, Mike DiSanza's experience of the real thing.
Mike was born in 1946 into a large Catholic Italian family and grew up in the Bronx which is a very socially deprived area of New York City. Despite Mike's regular attendance at church the teaching he received there with its emphasis on condemnation and guilt only served to deepen his feelings of hopelessness, and pretty soon he was on the well worn path towards violence and crime. Fortunately when he was 13 his fatalistic journey was arrested by the intervention of a community police officer who encouraged him to join a boxing club instead of fighting on the streets. A few weeks later one of his friends was killed in a massive street brawl and many others at the scene were sent to prison for up to 10 years.
Moving on a few years Mike got married, got educated at night school and joined the NYPD. At this stage life ought to have been getting easier but instead things started to go downhill. Most of his shifts at work were during the night and the sustained exposure to the lowest of low-life on his beat began to take its toll, and the old feelings of hopelessness resurfaced. Mike had to work most of the public holidays and soon even his marriage was in difficulty. However at the nadir of his life the Lord intervened (yet again). Mike collapsed on duty and an elderly black woman who stopped to help him said, "Jesus loves you" – when he eventually came round he saw that he had fallen directly in front of a fluorescent cross in a church window.
One thing led to another and soon both Mike and his wife became Christians (the story of which is worth reading on its own). Mike had the gift of evangelism (a few days after his conversion he borrowed a police loud-hailer and went preaching on the streets only to have to apologise to the hungry throng a few minutes later because he only knew of one verse in the Bible!). The sensible thing to do would be to leave the NYPD and become a full time church worker, especially as his colleagues continued to be murdered on a regular basis. However the Lord had other plans for Mike and he stayed working on his nocturnal beats being used in miraculous ways and ‘cheating death' on several occasions. Mike also came to see that other police officers needed God as much as the criminals and he went on to co-found ‘Cops for Christ' a sort of Christian Union for policemen and women which now operates throughout the US and beyond.
Torch produces A Cop for Christ (incidentally I don't think the evangelistic pun in the title was intended by our American cousins) in audio cassette, DAISY and shortly braille. The audio is read by Geoffrey Child using his British accent; although inevitably some of the dialogue really needs the benefit of a native New Yorker, Geoffrey reads in an engaging and light style. Unfortunately DAISY listeners will miss out on the Editor's mischievous location of a cassette break (as Mike is in the process of falling backwards down a deep hole in the road you hear "Aaaaaahhh ... This is the end of Cassette 4 side 1") but at least you will still be treated to Geoffrey's toy car doing an impersonation of a police siren!
I would definitely recommend this book and encourage you to take a journey with Mike DiSanza who, whether he is posing for a photo in his NYPD blue uniform with tourists in Times Square or wrestling with a violent junkie at 3 o'clock in the morning, is always a "cop for Christ".