It is Adam Croom’s first day of duty and he has a serious case of the jitters. After five trying months at the Police Academy, he and 45 other New York City rookie cops have just reported to Brooklyn’s 90th Precinct, and Croom is listening hard as Lt. Robert McLaughlin, a strapping, tough-talking officer of 49, tells them of the horrors they are about to face. “I was so nervous,” Croom, 20, will admit later, “that I sat at the back of the room so I wouldn’t stand out.”
Suddenly McLaughlin stops. “Croom!” he calls. “Where’s Officer Croom?”
“Here,” Croom answers softly, his eyes on the floor. “Oh, man,” he is thinking. “What did I do? Here’s the boss calling my name! I’m in trouble already!”
“Where do you live?” McLaughlin demands.
“Jamaica, Queens, sir.”
“What does your father do for a living?”
“He’s a highway repairman, sir.”
“Where were you born?”
“Queens General Hospital, sir. But my mother teases me that I was born in the backseat of a police car.”
There is an odd pause. McLaughlin stares at the wretched rookie, then smiles. “That’s right, you were,” he says. “I delivered you.”
The night of July 3, 1967, Robert McLaughlin remembers, was foggy and drizzly. “I was 29 years old and had five years’ experience as a cop. I was working the midnight-to-eight tour in the 103rd Precinct out of Jamaica.” It had been a quiet night for McLaughlin and his partner, Frank DelVicario—only one report, of a gun threat, which amounted to nothing—but at 3:55 a.m. they got an urgent call: A woman at 179-18 Anderson Rd. was in labor and needed a police car to take her to a hospital, fast.
“When we entered Helen Croom’s apartment,” McLaughlin says, “she blurted out, ‘I’m in labor and the baby’s coming quick!’ ” Helen spoke from no small experience: The baby would be her sixth, and the abrupt arrival of the second had forced the Governors Island ferry to turn around and return her to a hastily summoned ambulance on shore. This night, however, no ambulances were available, so the two cops maneuvered the frightened woman into the squad car. McLaughlin jumped in back with her, and DelVicario stepped on the gas. Officer McLaughlin had assisted in an emergency delivery once before, with an ambulance attendant who got so nervous he threw up, and the young officer was not eager for a replay. “I thought, please, lady, not in the car,” he says. “Please, lady,” he begged, “don’t push!”
Helen, however, was well past cooperating. “The baby’s coming! “she shrieked. “The baby’s coming!”
DelVicario screeched to a halt at a street light at 168th Street, under an elevated train line. “It all happened so fast,” says McLaughlin. “Helen delivered the baby—I just caught him. He was so slippery. I was all tangled in Helen’s clothes—it was a real mess. But I hung onto that baby for dear life. I said, ‘Okay, Frank, we can go now.’ I looked up, and my partner—this tough cop—was crying.”
At the hospital, McLaughlin met the baby’s father, Robert, who had been moonlighting as a bartender. “He asked my name, saying he and Helen wanted to name the child after me,” says McLaughlin. “But they already had a son Robert. So we mentioned that our region was called sector Adam.”
Then the cops returned to duty.
“Lieutenant McLaughlin was so helpful,” says Helen Croom, a religious woman who still lives with her husband in the apartment on Anderson Rd. “Thank God I knew what to expect. I was in a lot of pain, and it was a real mess, but fortunately it all worked out. I couldn’t have done it without him.” Helen is not surprised that Adam turned out to be a cop. “He always had a deep sense of right and wrong,” she says. “When others would encourage him to sneak under the subway turnstile, he would stand there and say, ‘No, you’re supposed to pay.’ He was never one to take shortcuts.”
Lt. Robert McLaughlin is a busy man. Policemen are always popping into his cluttered office to ask him questions. He answers with directness and humor, and his men respect him. “I never thought of or saw the name Adam Croom after that night,” he says, “until I noticed it on the recruit roster that morning.” That is not to say, however, that he forgot about the night in question. “Like I tell my recruits, 95 percent of our job is boredom,” he says, with a chuckle. “But the other 5 percent—boy, that 5 percent is incredible. So much of our work is serving summonses, filing accident reports, pulling bodies out of wrecked cars. We don’t often see the results of our efforts. That’s what makes me so happy about this story.”
McLaughlin had not seen his old partner DelVicario in five years but tracked him down at the organized crime unit at Manhattan headquarters to share the news about Croom.
“Bob thought I was retired by now,” DelVicario, 51, says. “It was such a long time ago.” Recalling that night, the only one on which he helped deliver a baby, DelVicario says, “It was a great feeling, one of the most memorable events of my police career. And they named the baby after our sector. That was something special.”
Adam Croom, a former football star on his neighborhood’s Pop Warner team, thinks all of it is special. “After Lieutenant McLaughlin told me the story, I ran home and told my grandmother and sister,” he says. “Then my mom came home. She was only halfway up the steps when I told her. She just couldn’t believe it.”
Now she does. “Adam,” Helen Croom says, “is right back where he started. In Lieutenant McLaughlin’s hands.”