Longtime NYPD traffic agent Brett Abrotsky’s most dangerous day on the job didn’t involve a runaway truck or an outraged driver — just a cigar and a stray bullet.
It was a fall morning in 1994 when Abrotsky, already a few tickets into a Brooklyn shift that started at 5 a.m., decided to take the edge off by lighting a Tiparillo. As he leaned back on his Cushman scooter, a bullet tore through the driver’s side window, grazed the upper part of his schnozz and whizzed out the passenger door.
“I’ve seen a lot of the stuff over the years — and I’ve got quite a few battle scars,” the 54-year-old Rockaway Beach resident told the Daily News.
Now, after 26 years of safeguarding New York streets, Abrotsky is ready for a quiet retirement away from the constant hustle and bustle.
“I’ve seen cars jump on sidewalks, vehicles crash into buildings, bicycles hit by oncoming traffic, horrible accidents on the highway,” said Abrotsky, a married father of a daughter and stepdaughter. “I’ve had a good career … now I’m ready to hang out, (wake) up at 11 o’clock and eat Pop Tarts and fish sticks.”
While he welcomes retirement, Abrotsky — best known around town for his 250 tattoos, ranging from the Star of David to scantily-clad women in Hawaiian hula skirts — said a part of him will miss the action.
“My life was always in the streets,” he said. “The NYPD has been very, very good to me. They really molded me from when I was a young little wise guy to the man I am today.”
Abrotsky, who grew up in gangster-heavy Howard Beach during the early 1980s, was raised in an interesting home: His mom was a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Latvia, while his dad served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Things were quiet on the home front until he turned 15 and came home with his first tattoo: The iconic Playboy bunny.
“They were dead set against it,” he said of that initial inking. “But I was a skinny (kid) with braces and glasses … I was beat up and jumped routinely (and) the tattoos were my outlet … It was my way of fighting back the unfair and cruel part(s) of society.”
A Hepatitis B outbreak in 1961 had prompted a 36-year citywide ban on tattooing, so Abrotsky sought the talents of famed underground artist Tony Polito to get his fix.
“He was the only act in Brooklyn,” said Abrotsky, adding that Polito operated only at night, away from the eyes of wary city inspectors looking shutter such joints.
“Tony would do 30 to 50 people a night,” he said. “It was like tattooing cattle … He would do in seven minutes what it would take someone else three hours to do.”
Abrotsky said he prefers the old-school “Sailor Jerry” type of tats — like the pinup girl and the four Aces brandishing the banner “hard to beat”’ that Polito etched on his right arm in 1980. He also sports four versions of the Rolling Stones’ tongue and lips logo on various body parts.
On his left arm are the words “NYPD Traffic” in bold, black letters flanked by two blue stars, an homage to his years in the department.
The multi-hued agent started on the job in 1992 back when Traffic Enforcement Agents were their own entity, working alongside the Department of Transportation to enforce the laws of the road.
He said his NYPD bosses didn’t mind his colorful sleeves when TEA merged with the police department in 1996, or 11 years after that when all newly hired cops were instructed to cover up their ink while at work.
The iconoclastic Abrotsky said becoming a part of New York’s Finest actually changed his life for the better.
“(Tattoos were) my way of saying … I will not conform to what people expect of me,” he said. “That all changed when I started working for the NYPD. They grew me up and taught me how to deal with others.
“I still feel like an outcast but (they) made me a better person. I will retire next month leaving a lot of great friends, but (it’s) time to start a new chapter in my life.”