Police Officer Edward Byrne did all he could to make the streets safe in life, and in death succeeded more than most cops could ever hope to.
Byrne was guarding the home of a witness in a drug case in South Jamaica when, in the early morning hours of Feb. 6, 1988, he was assassinated by four men on the orders of a drug kingpin. His murder horrified and sickened the city, but also galvanized it. It marked a turning point in the war against crime, as citizens and officials decided they weren’t going to allow gangs to own the streets any longer. Tactics changed, new police units were created and within just a couple years, the murder rate that had always just kept on rising was finally being reduced. And it’s been coming down ever since.
“Eddie’s death sparked the greatest policing comeback that I have ever witnessed!!” an officer named Michael Yacopino said in a post on NYPD Angels, a website dedicated to fallen officers and frequented by their colleagues. Yacopino said he was working a stakeout the night Byrne was killed in the same precinct, the 103rd. In fact, he said, he was working with the two detectives who caught Byrne’s killers.
“Where drug dealers at that time ran rampant and crime and murders [were] at a New York all-time high, that evening everything changed,” Yacopino said. “In my opinion the city since then is a safer place for all.”
Yacopino’s comment is only one of dozens posted on the site, many from officers who knew Byrne and some from cops who were inspired by his story to join the force.
One who knew him since they were in junior high school together is Sgt. Gary Costanza.
“I will never forget the day Eddie became a police officer,” said Costanza, who followed in his friend’s footsteps a few years later. “He was so proud to wear that uniform and to have that shield in his pocket.”
It seems there was never much question about what line of work Byrne would go into. His father was a cop, and Byrne joined the city’s Transit Police force, then separate from the NYPD, when he was just 20 years old. Soon after he transferred to the NYPD. He died at 22.
“Eddie loved football, hunting and fishing,” his eldest brother, Larry, told the Queens Chronicle last February. “He was into Journey and some hard-rock music. And he always wanted to be a cop like our father.”
Larry Byrne was speaking at a memorial service held at the site of his brother’s killing to mark the crime’s 25th anniversary. It drew hundreds, including more than 100 police officers.
Following Byrne’s killing, new police details such as the Tactical Narcotics Team and Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit were created. A federal law enforcement grant bearing his name was established. A street, park and school were named in his honor.
Byrne’s killers still live, housed and fed by the taxpayers in prison, but it’s the man they murdered who really lives on in this city.