On 9/11, Remembering Officer Robert Fazio, Shield #667, 13th Precinct, Manhattan
As any reporter knows, there exists between the press and government at best uneasy peace, at worst open conflict. This tension is natural, healthy even, because without the press, government is free of scrutiny (and corruption is not far off), and without government, well…let’s just say, to paraphrase the statement about athiests in foxholes, there are no anarchists when muggers show up and a police officer’s within earshot.
Still, while I have always generally respected police officers, it would be untrue to say that I have always gotten along with them. In my first job out of school, as a community news reporter for Town & Village News covering Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, middle-income housing developments on Manhattan’s East Side, one of my many duties was compiling the weekly crime report from police records at Gramercy’s 13th precinct.
In my role as somewhat anxious young reporter eager to do a thorough job, no doubt I annoyed a few police officers with my persistent questions and efforts to uncover various (mostly imagined) cover-ups and conspiracies. I also dug out the most intriguing weekly crime stories based on the police reports that filled overstuffed binders I would dutifully sort through. Sometimes these guys and gals would roll their eyes when they saw me coming. But, I felt my job as a reporter necessitated that I be persistent, aggressive, thorough to the point of annoying.
Although my working philosophy has become a bit more sophisticated, I still come up against the establishment. And yet all of us journalists rely on good people in government to work with us. We rely on people who understand the role of the press. Without them, our jobs would be nearly impossible. And every so often we encounter a member of government who grasps the importance of our role, who is a partner in uncovering the truth, and who can educate us about the limits of our job and the importance of theirs.
Bob Fazio, or “Fazio,” as I knew him, was one such individual. My favorite police officer at the 13th, he was unfailingly kind, helpful, and sweet to this anxious young reporter those years ago. I always will remember him; his decency and goodness emanated from him. The fact he was quite handsome was not lost on me either, to tell the truth. He used to make sure I got access to folders of police reports that other officers sometimes withheld, and answered my questions with patience. He also explained to me, with keen attention to detail, when a particular case required sensitivity, and why.
After September 11, when I heard the NYPD had lost hundreds, including some officers who had voluntarily rushed into the Towers, even though they were not on duty, I thought of my friends at the 13th. I did not search manifests because I did not want to know. A few months later, while reading the New York Times, I came across Fazio’s obituary. He had been among those officers who voluntarily chose to enter the Towers to attempt rescue of others.
When we are children, we have high ideals. Our parents tell us doctors are smart, gentle, and will heal us. Artists create works of beauty that will delight and uplift us. Journalists are honest and intrepid in their pursuit of truth. And police officers are brave, strong, helpful and kind.
Most people fall somewhat short of these ideals. As far as I can tell, Fazio never fell short. He was the police officer our Moms told us to find if we were ever in danger. Strong, brave, decent, and good. When I think of September 11th, it will always be of his sacrifice. Anyone who knew him knew he loved life. He gave his one precious life attempting to save his fellow New Yorkers, and in doing so, was a shining example of his profession at its finest.
Rest in Peace.