NEW YORK—When you walk into Bleecker Street Pizza, you expect one of the best slices in New York. What you don’t expect is the man behind the register, and the legend behind that man.
Ralph Friedman is average height, bald, muscular, and covered in tattoos. Frankly, he doesn’t really stick out in the West Village. However, once you start talking to him you realize that he isn’t your average New Yorker.
Friedman, 70, is the most decorated officer in NYPD history. He’s made over 2,000 arrests and has earned hundreds of commendations including the Combat Cross.
Before his career in the police department, he was moving furniture and making good money. However, he didn’t see any room for career advancement. The police department seemed like a good move.
In 1970, after graduating from police training, Friedman was assigned to the 41st precinct in the South Bronx, affectionately referred to as Fort Apache.
“It was a very rough area. It was the toughest area in the city, probably the country, and it was a Wild West show down there. A lot of shootings, robberies, rapes … it was like the most active and dangerous place in America,” Friedman told The Epoch Times.
A Dangerous Job
Some of Friedman’s greatest memories include being promoted to detective and receiving the Police Combat Cross medal—the NYPD’s second-highest honor. However, Friedman had to earn these accolades and risked his life daily to do so.
He became a police officer in what was arguably the most dangerous time period in New York City, especially in the South Bronx. He has countless memories from his time on the job, but there is one in particular that has stuck with him.
Not unusual during this era, Friedman and his partner were in a shootout with a suspect. His partner was shot seven times, and Friedman shot and killed the gunman, saving his partner’s life.
“It happens very quickly. Your training kicks in, and it’s like a reflex action,” Friedman explained of the life-or-death situation. “It was a great moment saving our lives, saving my partner.”
Today, it’s just another story in Friedman’s collection after being involved in 15 separate shooting incidents in which he shot eight men, killing four. Despite the danger, he looks back on his time in the police department fondly.
“I’m very proud of my career, and I’m very proud of the New York City Police Department, and being part of it is a great feeling,” Friedman said.
Unfortunately, Friedman’s illustrious career would be cut short. On August 1, 1983, he and his partner were responding to a 10–13, a code meaning an officer needed assistance. The officer was putting out the call himself, meaning he was in serious trouble.
Friedman and his partner were responding to the call in an unmarked car when a police car, responding to the same call, T-boned them at an intersection. Friedman was sitting in the passenger seat, and took the brunt of the hit. He broke 23 bones, shattered his hip into a hundred pieces, and broke his pelvis.
Friedman wouldn’t be able to continue his work as a result of his injuries. He had to retire from the force in January 1984.
“Even to this day, I still miss the police department, but I realized at that time that I was hurt in such a way that I wouldn’t be able to function, and I realized I’m getting a little older and criminals are getting a little younger,” Friedman said.
He’s since written a book about his days in the police force, called “Street Warrior,” and starred in the Discovery Channel show “Street Justice: The Bronx,” which aired last year.
Bleecker Street Pizza
It was retired fellow officer and close friend Doug Greenwood that brought Friedman to Bleecker Street Pizza. The police captain, who owned Bleecker Street Pizza, became ill from 9/11 related illness after working at Ground Zero for 40 straight days. Around two years ago, Friedman started traveling in from Connecticut on the weekends to help out however he could.
Tragically, Greenwood recently passed away. Friedman has stuck around, helping out the late officer’s brother Greg and co-owner Tony Salihaj who now own Bleecker Street Pizza. He comes in on Friday and Saturday evenings, and often works the register.
Friedman’s experience as a police officer has come in handy sometimes, particularly when it comes to inebriated customers late at night.
But Bleecker Street Pizza is a far cry from his old beat in 1970s South Bronx.
If you have a story, write to Andrew Thomas at email@example.com