After chasing down a suspect in Newhallville, Robert Hayden traced his steps to look for a gun the man might have ditched. Reviewing an apartment complex security video, he saw a woman walk by. He knew her name. He knew where she lives.
Before the night ended, the cops not only had an alleged gun-toting crack dealer behind bars. They had taken a “Super Blackhawk” off the streets.
It was the fourth illegal deadly weapon Hayden, working with his fellow officers, had recovered in two weeks.
He did it not because he knows so much about guns. He did it because he knows so many people and foot paths in Newhallville. Because he considers it his job to know them.
So says his supervisor, Sgt. Donnie Harrison.
“He parks his car and walks around and talks to people. The old community-based policing,” Harrison said.
“He knows a lot of people in the neighborhood. He gets a lot of information from the community. Every time there’s an incident going on, they ask for Robert Hayden. The criminals don’t like him. The community does.”
“You have to get out of the car,” Hayden said. “You have to talk to people.”
Hayden— a Hillhouse High grad with a pencil-thin mustache who favors military-style haircuts from his days assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons for the U.S. Army—got out of his patrol car for a stroll last Saturday around 4 p.m. Between sips of bottled water during an interview this week at Bru Cafe, he recalled what happened on that stroll.
Hayden was technically on duty Saturday in District 6, the Dixwell neighborhood. But the crew there had the neighborhood under control. Sometimes Newhallville (District 7), which has more violent crime, needs extra help. Hayden heads there when he can and walks around, checking in on hot spots. He feels almost a personal responsibility for tackling crime there.
On Saturday he had a recent murder on his mind from one of those hot spots: The shooting two nights earlier of bike enthusiast and vegan punk rocker Mitchell Dubey on Bassett Street near Winchester Avenue. Hayden had been off that night. “I wish I was there, five minutes prior,” he said. “Maybe my presence alone might have stopped it.”
“I’m a proactive cop,” said Hayden, a 45-year-old married father of four (all in their 20s, two of whom texted and called him during the interview) who has served on the force 10 years. “I like to work. I know the spots where there may be gang activity or gun violence.”
He knows that Lilac Avenue is one such spot in Newhallville. He knows of one two-family house whose occupants don’t want drug-dealers hanging out front; a “no trespassing” sign is on the second-floor porch. But the dealers hang out anyway. Neighbors complain to the cops about it.
Hayden didn’t drive up to the street on Saturday. He parked blocks away. He started cutting through backyards to approach one particular house on foot. That’s his m.o.
He jumped a few fences on his way to Lilac, (“I’m not as good as the 21-year-olds, but I can get there”), passed right by the Bassett Street house where the Thursday murder took place, made his way through a backyard to the Lilac Street house a block away.
Some men were congregating out front. One sat on the front porch. Two men stood near him. Another—the lookout—stood across the street. Hayden recognized them. They’d been in trouble with the law before.
They didn’t see Hayden coming. “They’re not looking in the backyards,” he said. Instead, they faced toward Winchester Avenue.
“Hello, gentlemen,” Hayden recalls greeting them. “Do you have any drugs or weapons?”
The man sitting on the porch was in the position of the crew member who’s usally holding drugs, Hayden said. His facial expression upon hearing the question seemed to confirm it.
So did the man’s next move. He “took off running. While he was running, he was holding his hip, which usually indicates he’s holding a weapon.”
Hayden took off after him, calling for back-up through the radio attached to one of his top shirt buttons.
The suspect, who is 29 years old, ran faster. Hayden kept close enough to see him dart through a parking lot behind an apartment complex at 660 Winchester Ave. The chase followed up the hill on Highland. Then the suspect darted through backyards on Sheffield Avenue. Hayden counted a yard eight houses down where he spotted the suspect turning.
Two detectives, Nicole Natale and David Zaweski, happened to be in the area when Hayden called for help. They converged on the property. The detectives spotted the suspect hiding in a garage. The three cops took him into custody without incident.
Hayden patted down the man. He found no drugs. Nor a gun. The cops took the man to the 1 Union Ave. lock-up on criminal trespassing and interfering charges. There, a marshal processing the man discovered 21 baggies of crack and a Ziploc bag of marijuana hidden in his left pocket, according to a police report. The police added eight narcotics charges.
Meanwhile, Hayden heard from an officer at 660 Winchester. A man there told cops his son had seen a gun lying in the parking lot. When the man went to the parking lot, it had vanished.
Hayden looked over a security video from the time right after the chase. On the video a woman walked by at one point; Hayden recognized her and knows where she lives. He knocked on her door. The woman told him the name of a boy who had taken the gun. Hayden knows the boy and his mother, too.
So he contacted the mom. he asked her to send the boy to the scene. The boy showed up. The boy said “his friend had the gun and he would try to get it back,” according to the police report.
Around 9:30 p.m., Hayden received a call from the mom. “Officer Hayden,” he recalled her saying, “the weapon’s here.”
The boy showed up with a .44-caliber Ruger “Super Blackhawk” magnum revolver. A big gun.
He couldn’t prove that the suspect had had that gun. So he didn’t charge him with possessing it. The man already faces a long list of charges; plus, he had been on parole.
“For me, the most important thing is that another gun is off the street,” Hayden said. “Especially one of that caliber.”
The Blackhawk remained in the police property room—rather than the streets of Newhallville, where it could have been used to claim another life.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski
(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)