At the height of New York City’s infamous 1970s collapse into financial ruin, violent street crime, and chaos on every crumbling corner, Detective Ralph Friedman patrolled the 41st precinct, an area of the Bronx so notorious the locals dubbed it “Fort Apache.”
Over the course of his 14-year career, Friedman, now 68, made 2,000 arrests and collected 219 NYPD awards, as well as 36 civilian citations for brilliant police work.
On Street Justice: The Bronx, Friedman recounts and brings to life his heart-pounding true adventures in the trenches of Fort Apache — from a race-against-time hunt for a psychotic serial rapist to a weapons sting that exploded into full-blown combat on a crowded sidewalk.
Now, check some eye-opening facts about its one-of-a-kind star, Ralph Friedman:
1. FRIEDMAN PUT HIS LIFE ON THE LINE EVERY DAY — AND HE HAD TO TAKE SOME, TOO
While going about his routine, police officer Ralph Friedman got knifed repeatedly, had his hand broken twice, and suffered a fractured skull after a suspect cracked him in the head with a tire iron.
He survived 15 gunfights in which he shot eight perpetrators, four of whom died. The first was a mugger who attacked a passerby right in front of him. When the victim had no money, the teen called his target a “cheap bastard” and executed him in cold blood.
Friedman and his partner, who were undercover, gave chase, and a wild battle of bullets erupted. Friedman emerged with a Police Combat Cross. The perp got dispatched to the morgue.
At present, one of Friedman’s many tattoos reads “Justified 4X,” to commemorate the four times he had to take a life to protect the innocent.
He feels it came with the territory and he notes:
“I was never traumatized. I never felt bad. I felt I saved my life or someone else’s life.”
2. 1970s NYC WAS ALL ABOUT MURDER, MUGGINGS & NONSTOP MAYHEM — AND FRIEDMAN LOVED IT
In recalling his Fort Apache years, Friedman said:
“New York was bad, but The Bronx was the worst. I loved it. It was like the Wild West, but 10 times worse.”
Friedman’s love of action took him from rookie beat cop to detective in just five years. He explained it further by saying:
“This job and experience immediately started me on an adrenaline rush, which just kept escalating and I couldn’t do enough police work to quench it. This adrenal rush turned me into an arrest machine, always seeking action and bad guys, on and off duty. It wouldn’t stop!”
As to whether it was worth it, Friedman literally carries an answer on his body. He said:
“I have [a tattoo] across my back, from shoulder blade to shoulder blade, and it sort of sums up my career. It says ‘The rush was worth the risk.’ My life was always at risk, like any police officer. But the rush was worth it.”
3. FRIEDMAN WOULD LOVE TO BE A COP NOW — BUT HE DOESN’T THINK HIS TACTICS WOULD FLY TODAY
Friedman maintains that there’s “nothing better than being a cop on the street,” but he believes political pressure and too much outsider interference have tilted the balance away from law enforcement and in favor of law-breakers. As he put it:
“When I was on the job, they wanted you to be very proactive, go out and arrest bad guys and do your job. Today it’s not like that … Police are more reactive, after a crime has been committed. They don’t want you out there doing real police work. Today, no one has your back…. If I said you were under arrest, you were under arrest. You could go easy or hard, but you were under arrest.”
4. IRONICALLY, ANOTHER COP CUT SHORT FRIEDMAN’S CAREER — AND THEN HIS EIGHT GIRLFRIENDS WANTED TO KILL HIM
On August 1, 1983, Friedman responded to an “officer needs assistance” call. While speeding to the scene, an NYPD patrol car being driven by a rookie T-boned Friedman’s vehicle.
The detective nearly died on the spot, sustaining 23 broken bones, including four pelvis fractures and a shattered hip. As Friedman observed, “It knocked the s–t out of me.”
The accident also forced Friedman to slow down on the romantic front. As he recalls:
“I was in the hospital a long time. Before the accident I was dating seven or eight girls and they were always running into each other while visiting me. One day I woke up and they were all there at the same time. I made like I passed out again from the drugs. One girl [Grace] hung in there as the others started phasing out. She came every day and said she knew that I’d recover. She’s still with me, 32 years later.”
At just 34, then, early retirement was not an option. He had to learn to walk again.
Today, Friedman continues to awake each morning at 5 A.M. to engage in monstrous workouts that have provided him with a ripped-up, muscular body.
5. BEFORE THE NYPD, FRIEDMAN HIMSELF WAS JUST A REGULAR NEIGHBORHOOD GUY FROM THE BRONX
Ralph Friedman grew up in a working-class Jewish family from the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. After high school, he took a job moving furniture until some friends mentioned taking the police civil-service exam. He went along and passed, thinking:
“Being a cop you could have a future, even without a college degree. If I stayed a mover, I’d be lifting that same refrigerator for 30 years.”
While the NYPD may have seemed like an Irish-American clubhouse at the time, Friedman said he never experienced any anti-Semitism from fellow officers, stating:
“People saw that I could handle myself, and I think I gave a better impression of Jews because I could handle myself.”
While he may not embrace the non–police meddling in present law enforcement, he is delighted to see racial, ethnic, and religious diversity so widespread in the current force. He said:
“[Diversity] is a good thing, without a doubt. It reflects the makeup of the city. Good cops come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s the person.”
Watch the premiere of Street Justice: The Bronx on Thursday, November 30, at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery!
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Main image: Ralph Friedman, “Street Justice: The Bronx”/ [Investigation Discovery]