It’s a hot, sultry night in San Diego. The kind of night anything can happen. And at 9:26 it does. The phone starts ringing in the NYPD precinct house. “It’s a Code Three,” barks the captain. Twenty-two minutes later a squad car screeches to a halt in front of a neat suburban home. A uniformed member of the NYPD jumps out. “Open up,” he says, pounding on the front door. “It’s the pizza.”
Just a routine run in the line of duty for San Diego’s NYPD (New York Pizza Department). Its boys in blue deliver authentic New York pizza in an authentic, gritty streets-of-New-York style. Their blue uniform shirts come from the same Bronx company that supplies the real NYPD, and their seven-digit phone number ends in 911—New York’s emergency number.
The gimmick is drawing customers, but some critics just don’t see the joke. The NYPD’s delivery cars are equipped with red-and-blue roof lights and are painted to look like real San Diego Police Department cruisers. And that drives lots of California law enforcement types straight up the wall. In fact, Assemblyman Steve Peace of Chula Vista is pushing what has come to be known as the “Pizza Bill.” If it gets through the state legislature, it will prohibit all but bona fide cops, moviemakers and security personnel from driving cars that look like police cruisers. “The key issue is safety,” says Lieut. Glenn Brietenste in of San Diego’s Police Traffic Division. “Once, a robbery victim flagged down a pizza delivery car, thinking it was a police car. The delay allowed the suspect to get away.” Responds NYPD manager Shawn Lyman: “It couldn’t have been our car. The incident happened five miles outside of NYPD’s delivery range.”
Fourteen years ago, Monica Crotta, 38, a founder of NYPD, moved from Brooklyn to San Diego and was appalled to find “there wasn’t any New York-style pizza that I liked.” She decided to remedy that, and, in 1981, she and her husband, Dan, 36, a lawyer, came up with the idea for NYPD. Among their most egregious false starts was the notion of making the precinct house truly authentic. “A buddy arranged for us to tour a couple of headquarters in the Bronx,” recalls Dan. “We decided it wasn’t a real neat place to eat pizza. The floors were all pukey green.”
Today they sell about 150 pizzas a day from the more tastefully decorated Precinct House One, and there are plans for a second polizzeria in San Diego, as well as outposts in L.A. and San Francisco. A lot of San Diego motorists would probably like to see the pizza cops move away entirely. Whenever the NYPD’s cruisers appear in traffic, the road suddenly sparkles with red brake lights. Says Jeff Johnson, a driver for NYPD: “Customers come in all the time saying, ‘I always think you’re the cops. I hate that car.’ ”