Some of the most impressive choreography on Broadway can be seen six nights a week on 45th Street, but it doesn’t happen on a stage.
NYPD Officer John O’Gorman is the thin blue line between safety and chaos on a heavily trafficked block that is packed with six theaters, including the Minskoff, home of the ever-popular “The Lion King,” and Music Box, host of the hit tuner “Dear Evan Hansen.”
O’Gorman is one of eight Broadway beat cops in the NYPD’s Midtown North Precinct who are assigned to patrol specific streets in the heart of the Theater District. The busiest part of his 4 p.m.-12:30 a.m. shift is usually around 10:30 p.m. when the shows begin to let out. The moment when theater-goers come streaming out of the venues — especially after patrons have had a few drinks — can be a dangerous mix with automobile traffic on the narrow street.
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The officer, who looks and sounds every bit the native of Cork, Ireland that he is, knows the running times down to the minute of all the shows on his turf. On a recent night, he kept one eye on the Minskoff doors at the corner of 45th and Broadway, and one eye on the Music Box, about halfway down the block. When the crowds began to bulge on the sidewalk outside both venues, O’Gorman strode into the middle of 45th and stopped the cars heading west toward 8th Avenue, using only his voice and his right arm.
After a few minutes, he shifted to the south side of the street and began ushering cars through again, spinning his forearm in a circlular motion with a speed that indicates how long he’s been working this beat: 16 years. Another few minutes go by and he stops traffic again briefly to allow the black-car carrying “Dear Evan Hansen” star Ben Platt to pull out as it’s trailed by a few autograph seekers. O’Gorman coordinates all of this activity and more with a nod and wink or two to the drivers, the security guards and other behind the scenes players at the theaters and at the Marriott Marquis hotel (a favorite of stars and high-level politicos) that is also on his block. And he communicates regularly with the undercover cops who are out in force in the Times Square area.
“You don’t really know how hard they work until you’re out here with them at 1 a.m. Everybody knows them, and everybody needs them.”
NYPD Lt. Sean Burke
“You just have to feel it,” O’Gorman says of his one-man crowd control labors. “If you’re good with people, this job will be a fit for you.”
For sure, Broadway’s beat cops have to be carefully cast for the job, and it’s a coveted posting, according to NYPD Lt. Sean Burke, who oversees the Theater District patrol. First and foremost, the officers have to build strong relationships with all the key players on their turf — from theater managers to the parking garage operators to street vendors. And they must have a generally good disposition to field dozens of questions from tourists in the Times Square area every night.
“They 100% own their blocks,” Burke says. “You don’t really know how hard they work until you’re out here with them at 1 a.m. Everybody knows them, and everybody needs them.”
One of the biggest challenges is the fact that the Theater District draws a high concentration of notable stars to a small area that is wide open to the public. Bette Midler’s recent run in “Hello Dolly” at the Schubert Theatre on 44th Street created an extra bit of traffic control pressure for O’Gorman as her car headed out down his block at the end of the night.
Officer Delvis Perez, who works 49th Street, where the big show is “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, is bracing for the arrival of Bruce Springsteen at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street this month. Springsteen belongs to that breed of star that draws super-fans who don’t have tickets to the show but just want to catch a glimpse of him entering or exiting the theater.
|Officers Delvis Perez (above) and John O’Gorman (pictured at the top of the article) maintain the line between safety and chaos.
Celeste Sloman for Variety
The beat cops are often called on to work with other law enforcement officials to protect celebrities from stalkers. They coordinate with counter-terrorism units when Homeland Security threat levels are elevated. And they’re occasionally called inside a theater by security to help remove an unruly patron. But that’s the exception.
The Broadway police typically make very few arrests—to do so would take too much time away from the street to deal with paperwork and booking and such. In reality, there’s rarely much need for pulling out the bracelets, officers say.
“For the most part, people are pretty good—they’re here to have a good time,” Perez says.
O’Gorman keeps a hawkish eye out for scalpers and pickpockets — two blights on the theater community, in his eyes. He doesn’t care much for panhandlers, either, so most of them know to keep clear of his street. “We have a good understanding of how we conduct business around here,” O’Gorman says.
The mere presence of the badge and the uniform does most of the heavy lifting, so long as the beat cops remain highly visible, officers say. “I’m like a shark,” says Officer Michael McGlynn, who works 52nd Street. “I’ve got to keep moving.”
McGlynn, who sports a large cross tattoo on his left forearm, has the confident swagger of an NYPD cop straight out of a Martin Scorsese movie. Projecting that image—and keeping himself in top physical shape—is important in dealing with the public, he says. “Ninety-five percent of our interactions (with the public) are very positive,” McGlynn assures.
MyGlynn’s wife gets a kick out of his semi-regular encounters with A-list talent. But he’s not too starry-eyed after several years of patrolling the Main Stem.
“I have my job and I do it well,” he says. They have a job on stage and they do it well. I don’t go out for drinks with them afterward.”