Throughout his 20 years as a member of the NYPD, Irish-born Luke Waters never received anything but glowing reviews from his commanding officers.
His perfect reviews and the help of the Irish NYPD network put him on the path to achieving his dream job as a homicide detective. He was even once temporarily deputized by the FBI so that he could take part in a raid in Puerto Rico.
He achieved all this despite spending his first three years in New York as an illegal immigrant.
Dublin-man Luke Waters shares his story in the book “NYPD Green: The True Story of an Irish Detective Working in one of the Toughest Police Department in the World,” released in Ireland yesterday. “I wanted to show the people of Ireland what it’s like when they emigrate,” Luke tells IrishCentral.
Born and raised in Finglas, Dublin, Luke dreamed of following the family career into An Garda Síochana (Ireland's police force). When a constantly extending summer holiday in New York turned into a complete relocation to the city, however, he found himself on the same journey to the dream job but with a different country’s police force.
The idea for a book first came from Luke’s friend, Irish journalist Patrick Ryan, who joined him in New York for a ride along. Ryan was intrigued by the war stories and included Luke’s story in “Garda Review” magazine in 2001, encouraging him to go a step further and tell his story from start to finish in a book. “I laughed it off at the time and put it in the back of head,” Luke says.
On making the decision that a book was the way forward, Waters and Ryan teamed up again and, using Ryan's writing talent, spent five years working together to put Luke's story down on paper.
“The thing that most pushed me over the edge [to write] was – as was a former illegal alien, like everyone else in ’80s – I was sick of when people would die and personal friends, who weren't as lucky as me [to receive a green card], couldn't come home for parents’ funerals or anniversaries,” Luke says.
“You’d be in bars with them till 4 and 5 in the morning and you don’t know what to say, but you can’t leave them alone so I thought I’d go and let people know my story.”
Luke doesn’t shy away from the problems facing illegal Irish immigrants in the US and the uncertainty that faces them. Despite coming across as the classic NYPD cop throughout "NYPD Green," an Irishman completely assimilated into US culture with the correct lingo and NYPD jargon, Luke has never lost any of his Irishness with a strong Finglas accent that shows no signs of his years in New York.
“We’re just asking the US government for fairness,” he claims. “My commanders [in the NYPD] felt that I was well beyond capable even though I had been there undocumented.”
“It was [immigration] a lot more lenient in the 80s. Since I came over, especially since 9/11, everything has changed. Security is not as lenient and employers today are reluctant to take that risk with people.”
Luke’s own story is not lacking a bit of luck and plenty of willingness to chance his arm. He won the green card lottery and successfully became a US citizen, but he is aware that he is within a small percentage with this kind of luck.
“It’s just not fair,” he says. “In the last few years, of the 10 million US green cards awarded, there was not even half of one percent given to the Irish.
“Just think of all the Irish people who died fighting wars for the US. Of all of them, the biggest majority of those who died were of Irish descent. We’re just asking the US government for fairness. We’re [the Irish] losing our heritage in the NYPD and in the US...everyone’s culture is very important.”
The loss of Irish representation within the NYPD is something in particular that concerns Luke. Throughout “NYPD Green” we see how his Irish birth helped along the way in his rise through the ranks, and in recent years, this Irish support network has somewhat disintegrated.
“The Irish network within the NYPD is lost,” he tells us.
“There were approximately 50 people from Ireland in the police academy when I joined and I heard lately that amongst the last 15 classes, and there are 1000s of recruits in every class, there was not one person from Ireland.”
“NYPD is the most diverse police force in the world, but we’re losing that and losing our heritage.”
“I’m very involved in the NYPD GAA team and we need young members,” he continues. “We need to keep our tradition alive. It’s important that you remember that without all of the Irish ancestors, we would not have had JFK as president or Bill Clinton as president.”
“The likes of Hillary Clinton are talking about [immigration] reform. I’m a former alien and I never committed a crime. I only wanted to work, I didn't do anything wrong. If these people [his superiors] felt I could do that job, give other people a chance. The likes of Hillary, I hope she would give them a chance.”
"NYPD Green" tells the often gruesome tales of Luke’s time as a NYPD homicide detective in the Bronx, retelling shocking cases and deaths and the ever-present threat posed by drug dealers and abusers. Harrowing stories of the work of a homicide detective litter Luke’s tale, from the deaths of young gang members to that of a newborn baby flung to its death just minutes after birth.
“I talk about the job the way it is,” Luke says, “if people tell me they want to be in the NYPD, then I tell them it’s a fantastic job.”
The politics, red tape and paperwork of the force are evident throughout, however, and anecdotes of police corruption smear Luke's good memories of his service from time to time.
“There’s politics involved in every job,” he claims. “I try my best to not let it get in the way – the job to investigate ... With pay raises, you’re not always happy but you have to get over it, to move on. When I took the job, I knew what the salary was going to be.”
Luke’s previously mentioned luck seems to be aided somewhat by a good sense of humor, something that must also help a homicide detective to face each new case. “There’s good humor in the police department,” he says. “The characters and the cops, you just can’t make them up. You can talk to anyone in the department, everybody gets on well and respects the culture of others.”
In 2012, Luke ended his NYPD career returning to Ireland, this time to Cavan, with his wife and three kids after many years in the US. “They never changed the pint,” he jokes of his Irish return.
"NYPD Green" is a no-holds-barred account of how Luke’s career panned out until this point: death, drugs and corruption but most of all, bravery. The book is set for a US release in the coming months with Simon & Schuster.
More information on “NYPD Green” can be found here.
* Originally published in May 2015.