By Bill Parry
An ex-con from the Bronx has been driving the streets in and around LaGuardia Airport searching for an NYPD officer for the last month.
James Roberts, 58, is not sure of the cop’s name or the precinct he is stationed at, but he is positive about one thing.
“That man changed my life,” Roberts said. “I’m just trying to find him so I can thank him properly, maybe take him to lunch. I’m pretty sure his name was Anderson or Andrews, something like that, and he’s a bald black man in his mid-30s with a little mustache. And he was very polite and very nice.”
Roberts was a small-time drug dealer with the street name “Mousie” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, selling crack and marijuana. He claims he was not a violent criminal.
“I didn’t believe in gun violence or knives,” Robert said. “Killing people is wrong, but I came to realize that I was killing people, too, but I was doing it with crack. I saw what crack was doing to God’s children and when I came to that realization, I just had to retire.”
Roberts stopped dealing drugs in 1999, but several weeks later he was arrested and charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance. Roberts claimed he was set up by a woman he had refused to sell to because she was pregnant.
“When she pointed me out to the cops, I had nothing but $7 and four cigarettes in my pocket,” Roberts recalled. “It was my rap sheet that caught up with me and they sent me upstate.”
Roberts spent the next four years in Clinton Dannemora Prison, the maximum security jail for men just south of Montreal. Roberts steered clear of trouble, spending all of his free time studying in the prison’s law library.
After his release in 2005, Roberts found that his incarceration was a barrier to employment. For the next 12 years he tried a job readiness program and spent time in the Doe Fund, but the only work he could get was as a disc jockey technician two or three times a month making $25 a party.
In November, an acquaintance suggested he try talking to America Works, a private workforce development firm that has found jobs for a half a million hard-to-place workers since 1984. America Works has placed military veterans, long-term welfare and food stamp recipients, people who are homeless and living in shelters, and like Roberts, former criminal offenders.
On Jan. 7, his case worker told him she found a job for him at LaGuardia Airport servicing cars at the National, Enterprise and Alamo rental-car depots and he raced to Queens. When he got off the M60 bus at 82nd Street and Astoria Boulevard North, Robert realized his appointment was not at the airport but at the offices of Cavalry Staffing in Fresh Meadows. But since he only had enough fare for his return trip to the Bronx, he began to get uptight and visibly agitated and that’s when he heard a voice.
“This police officer was sitting in his patrol car at the bus stop and he tried to calm me down,” Robert said. “When he looked at the address, he said he knew the place because he took his wife to the Applebee’s around the corner. I said point me in the direction and I’ll start walking because I don’t have the fare. That’s when he told me to get in the car and he’d take me there. He said it was OK, he was on his lunch break.”
When the officer dropped him at the proper offices on 186th Street, he shook Roberts’ hand and wished him the best of luck.
“I told him if I got the job I’d take him to lunch at that Applebee’s on 188th Street,” Roberts said. “Well, I got the job the very same day and ever since I’ve been driving around hoping to find him, so I can take him to lunch and thank him for caring.”
America Works CEO Dr. Lee Bowes found the whole story to be heartwarming from beginning to end.
“First off, Mr. Roberts has been collecting Social Security disability checks, so he could have spent the rest of his life at home collecting checks, but he preferred to work,” Bowes said. “And then to see how this officer helped him was touching. We would love to be able to let Commissioner Bratton know what this officer did, but we haven’t been able to find him.”
The NYPD’s 114th and 115th Precincts and the Port Authority Police Department have been unable to find an officer matching the description.
Roberts said he will keep searching until he finds him.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr