Thursday, June 25, 2020

Absolutely wild article about extensive, decades-long criminality by New York lifeguards

It's more a novella than an article, detailing decades of crime and corruption. After each paragraph, you think, thankfully they finally put a stop to it. And then the next paragraph starts:
[The head of the union] relies on a playbook of patronage, power brokering, and intimidation. Since 1981, his supervisors have rigged swim tests, shielded sexual predators, and falsified drowning reports. One lifeguard refers to his crew as “La Cosa Nostra.” Through tabloid scandals, wrongful-death lawsuits, and 79 on-duty drownings since 1988 — at points, the city’s drowning fatality rate has been three times the national average — [he] has hung on like a barnacle from a bygone New York, successfully sidelining anyone who challenges him.


New York City in the 1980s was a far more dangerous place than it is today, and beaches and pools were no exception. Lifeguards dove into the water to escape drive-by shootings. Teenagers hopped pool fences and hosted all-night parties with motorcycles, drugs, and water snakes. Lifeguards arrived at work to find floating corpses in pools and body parts washing up on beaches.

Lifeguards were out of control too. They ordered kegs at pools and tapped them while on duty. Coney Island guards threw cocaine-fueled parties and made T-shirts that read WE DRINK, YOU SINK.

There was, and there remains, a lifeguard hierarchy: first pools, then bay beaches, then open ocean. Rockaway Beach and its dangerous surf attracted the alpha lifeguards — and featured the wildest parties.


Green’s investigators spent three months going undercover at the lifeguard school. His office’s June 1994 report concluded that the lifeguard program was “swimming in mismanagement, negligence, secrecy, favoritism, conflicts, and even deception.” Lifeguards dressed up torpedo buoys with jackets and hats to sit their shifts; there was widespread favoritism in hiring, including passing people who literally couldn’t swim.