While growing up in Queens, New York, NYPD lieutenant Dave Siev always dreamed of becoming both a cop and a boxer. Today, at 40 years old, he has attained both of those dreams—and much more. A Jew of Japanese and Lithuanian extraction, Siev joined the NYPD in 1991 and quickly rose through the ranks, attaining his current rank in 2002. He also took over the NYPD’s Fighting Finest boxing team from retired detective Carl “Duke” Schroeder, a onetime professional welterweight, in 2001, and has seen it grow from a loose knit organization that sponsored two or three smokers a year to an organization of international prominence.
Siev’s success on both fronts did not come easy. While a sergeant assigned to Brooklyn’s 67 Precinct in 1999, he and several officers under his supervision were involved in a blazing shootout that earned all of them the Police Combat Cross, the department’s second highest honor. And the work involved in transforming the boxing team from a ragtag group of sluggers into a well-disciplined, highly-trained, internationally elite team of amateur boxers has been intense.
But through the stalwart efforts of Siev, retired Sgt. Pat Russo, who runs the citywide Police Athletic League (PAL) program, Inspector Jim McCabe, the team’s adviser and liaison, retired Police Officer Richard Frazier, who earned no shortage of law enforcement titles while competing for the NYPD, and later challenged Roy Jones Jr. for the light heavyweight title, and trainer Bobby Barnes, the team has come to represent athletic excellence. And, says Siev, “We have become global ambassadors for the law enforcement community.”
In recent years the team, which trains at the Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, as well as the newly opened Park Hill Police Athletic League in Staten Island, has traveled to Barcelona, Spain, where four NYPD members – Sgt. Russell Jung and Officers Mike Russo, Dave Machin and Louis Rosenthal – competed in the World Police and Fire Games, as well as in bouts with the law enforcement and public safety communities in the Dominican Republic, London, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas. The Fighting Finest not only won the majority of matches, they also promoted no shortage of goodwill for local causes. In the Dominican Republic, for example, they paid for, and even helped with the physical reconstruction of, a local police station, and in California they joined colleagues from the LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in visiting young cancer patients at the City of Hope hospital complex.
Although Siev was an outstanding amateur boxer, he no longer competes and instead serves as the team’s head coach and administrator, a job he describes as “much harder than boxing.” Siev is no stranger to hard work, nor is he a stranger to altruistic endeavors. While working for many years in the 67 Precinct, long considered one of the city’s most dangerous, he organized a program called Blue Christmas.
The concept was spawned a few days before Christmas 1998, when Siev responded to a radio run of a badly scalded little girl. Although her injuries were not life threatening, she was in physical agony. Siev, who was determined to bring her at least a modicum of holiday joy, convinced many of his fellow officers to buy some gifts, and then personally delivered them to the girl’s hospital bed.
In a neighborhood where hope had long ago given way to hopelessness, despair and violence—two veteran detectives, Bobby Parker and Patrick Rafferty, were shot and killed while trying to arrest a suspect last September—word of Siev’s actions spread quickly through the blood-soaked streets. Through donations by officers themselves, as well as from local businesses, the program soon took on a life of its own. The following year Siev and his colleagues dispensed hundreds of gifts to neighborhood children. Today that number is in the thousands, with no end in sight.
“Dave is no longer assigned to the precinct, but he never forgot his roots and the Blue Christmas program is bigger than ever,” said Inspector Robert Boyce, the current commanding officer of the 67 Precinct. “He and Bobby Parker had been in the precinct so long, they served as its backbone. The community had a difficult time when Dave got promoted to lieutenant and was transferred out. Then when Bobby Parker and Sean Rafferty were killed, the neighborhood was devastated. Dave is living proof that boxing—which has such a sordid reputation—is filled with great people.”
“There are no words to describe what a good, solid person Dave is,” said Ed Mullins, a former supervisor in the 67 Detective Squad and currently the President of the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association, one of the team’s sponsors whose 10,000 members make it the third largest police union in the country. “He has taken his love of boxing and created this entity that benefits so many people. His determination is downright inspirational, and has left quite an impression among the local citizenry. You won’t find a cop with a bigger heart—or a bigger punch.”
In the beginning the Fighting Finest was lucky to put together three or for smokers a year, where officers from different precincts would duke it out to offset another officer’s catastrophic medical expenses. But, like the Blue Christmas program, they soon became so well regarded, they even squared off against cast members from television’s daytime soap opera “One Life to Live” at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in a January 2003 charity match. Interspersed between the “reel bouts” against cast members were real bouts with members of the Denver, Colorado, Police Department.
“As big as we’ve gotten, I have even bigger plans for the team,” said Siev. “We’ll become fixtures in the World Games and have plans to compete in Jamaica, Philadelphia and New Mexico. We’re actively seeking corporate sponsorships, and hope to keep enhancing our reputation.”
Among the current or occasional sponsors are the New York City Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Detectives Endowment Association, boxing impresario Lou DiBella’s promotional firm, and the P.C. Richard appliance store chain. However, as big as Siev hopes his team becomes, he insists he will never forget its original mission. That is evident by his latest venture, which he hopes will have global impact on the health community.
The Fighting Finest will be hosting teams from Los Angeles on April 14. The bouts will only be the preliminary to a series of blood drives for bone marrow awareness, especially among minorities where the donor pools are very low. “We’re hoping to use the boxing event as a launching pad to get people, especially minorities, to register with national blood banks,” said Siev. “The more prospective donors there are, obviously the more lives can be saved.”
Siev, who seems to have a Zen-like mastery over life, sees no ambiguity in those engaging in what is generally regarded as a blood sport doggedly trying to sign up blood donors. “Life is full of ambiguities, moral and otherwise,” he said. “A lot of people think cops are mean-spirited, with no sense of social conscience. That’s clearly not true. Good cops, of which there are many, view their chosen profession as a calling. They do more good deeds in one year than many people do in a lifetime, and never tell anyone about it.
“A lot of people think that boxers are thugs, and that’s certainly not true,” he adds. “Many professional boxers are among the most honorable people I’ve ever met. Is there any irony in a boxing team raising money for blood drives? Perhaps! But then again, if you view boxing solely as a sport, the concept is to hit and not get hit. That’s why they call it the sweet science. If you look at it from that perspective, there’s really no moral ambiguity at all.”
(The web address for the Fighting Finest is: www.finestboxing.com)