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Retired vice cop turns to life of scribe

“It wasn’t a second after I’d got done telling myself how lucky I felt that in walked this blond, gasping for air.  She was horror on a high scale, the kind that could convince a guy to drink paint straight out of the can.” — From “Gee-Me Gumshoe, Private Dick,” a short story by Michael Berish.

Daytona News-Journal/Staff Writer

NEW SMYRNA BEACH — The phone jangles. Retired-Miami-vice-cop-turned-author Michael Berish shoots a glance at his terrier Muttley.  Into the receiver, he argues with a workman who didn’t show up on time to help board up against Hurricane Frances.
    Mike Berish shows off his badge and uniform framed for him as a retirement gift from the Miami Police Department.  Berish, who once served as a consultant on the ´80’s television series "Miami Vice," now lives in New Smyrna Beach and has turned to writing hard-boiled stories, plays and screenplays.  Slamming the receiver down, he sips gourmet coffee and talks at the kitchen table in his three-story oceanside home about his testimony before the Meese Commission on Pornography during President Reagan’s administration.
    In the 1980’s, while actor Don Johnson wore pastel jackets and a five-o’clock shadow as Sonny Crockett on television’s
“Miami Vice,” Berish was the real deal, chasing down dope pushers and busting pornography dealers on Miami’s streets.  Now, Berish is writing his own cop stories, along with plays and screenplays on other subjects, such as romance and war.
    One play was used in a workshop at Playwrights Round Table in May at Rollins College and was one of 20 finalists out of 300 entries at Centre Stage South Carolina Festival chosen for possible publication by Samuel French Inc.
    Berish’s latest short stories sold to Hardboiled magazine (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Enigma (Philadelphia), a small-press publication that pays in magazine copies instead of money.
    Syd Bradford, publisher of Enigma for 15 years, says Berish is “exceptionally good.”
    “I like his writing because of his background and his material, and he has a sense of humor,” Bradford says in a phone interview.
    Berish says it shouldn’t be such a surprise.  He has a master’s degree in communications from Barry University in Miami, which included classes in screenwriting, production and directing.
    Before becoming a cop and earning his master’s degree during the Vietnam War era, Berish was drafted but branded “1Y” because of a perforated eardrum.
    In the 1970’s, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native says he wanted to be an actor and got accepted to UCLA’s film school, but instead took advantage of a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.
    He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and after college took a job supervising 135 people on a General Motors assembly line in Anderson, Ind.  After two years at GM, he says he was burned out from the tedium.
    “I just didn’t want to do that.  It was dull, so I decided to try law school,” he says.  “I went to back to New York, to Albany Law School,” croaks Berish in a gravelly voice.  Then he cackles an infectious laugh thinking of the story he’s about to tell.
    “I was sitting in a criminal law class when the professor says, ‘Here is a Supreme Court decision of a criminal case.’  He says suppose a guy did this, this and this...”  Berish explains the object of the class was to figure out how a lawyer might have gotten the criminal “off” instead of being found guilty.
    “The criminal law professor was teaching how to beat the law, to twist things around to beat the case, and I said to myself it would be better to put people in jail who were really bad people — and make it stick against these high-priced attorneys.”
    He left law school, borrowed money from an uncle to fly to Daytona Beach and then hitchhiked to Miami, where he heard the police force was hiring.
    “I had $50 in my pocket and stayed at the YMCA for $7 a night,” he says.  “I thought the eardrum would keep me out, but they didn’t find any perforated eardrum.  I had to climb walls, swim, run the 100-yard dash.  I got hired and went to the police academy for six months.”
    As a rookie, he patrolled in “The Pit,” which is now the subject of many of his short stories.
    “I want to get up to 20 or 25 stories before I bundle and sell them as a book,” he says.  He has 11 stories, seven that take place in “The Pit.”
    In less than two years with Miami Police Department, Berish made the vice squad and says he was interviewed as a consultant to the popular TV show.
    I always had a few days growth of stubble, and they asked me why,” Berish says.  “I said if you are clean-shaven, the bad guys won’t sell to you because you look like a cop, so the character Don Johnson plays turns up like that.”
    Berish’s real-life chases and arrests were no less exciting than ones on the show, says retired FBI agent Bill Kelly, who worked with Berish and who also testified at Attorney General Edwin Meese’s pornography hearings about adult-oriented pornography businesses he investigated as a detective.
    “Berish made more than 200 obscenity arrests and never got a not guilty,” says Kelly, now is a pornography consultant to the
Broward County Sheriff’s Office, in a phone interview.
    Since Berish retired in 1994 and moved to New Smyrna Beach, he has been active in community theater there, DeLand and Orlando.  He’ll be appearing in “Camping with Henry and Tom,” scheduled to open Oct. 8 at Sands Theater in DeLand.
    Berish says he handed an original play of his to Rosemary Sutton, a director at the Sands.
    “The story is very interesting. It was well-written and had a good ending,” Sutton says.
    She passed the play on to the artistic committee for consideration.
Real cops in novels, movies. 

    Stories by or about former police officers have become hit books and movies. Here are a few:

    Frank Serpico, former New York City cop from 1960, is famous for his 1971 Knapp Commission testimony that revealed widespread corruption within the city’s police department.  His story inspired the best-selling book by Peter Maas, which, in turn, became the hit movie “Serpico” (1973), starring Al Pacino.

    Eddie Egan is the New York City cop whose record-breaking heroin bust inspired the 1971 movie starring Gene Hackman “The French Connection,” a big hit and Academy Award winner.  The real-life Egan had a penchant for twisting perpetrators’ arms (not to mention the rules).

    Joseph Wambaugh is a former police officer who transformed the police novel into a subgenre.  His first four books and his work on the “Police Story” television series in the 1970’s set new standards of realism.

    Mark Fuhrman, former Los Angeles police detective and star witness in the O.J. Simpson case, wrote “Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?”  The 1999 book centers on an unsolved case of money, power and fame: the 1975 bludgeoning and stabbing death of Martha Moxley, with Kennedy relatives as the prime suspects.  Fuhrman’s book analyzed the case and how local police bungled the initial investigation and lost crucial evidence.


    NOTE: To order any of my books (either hardcover, paperback, E-books, new, used, or personalized authographed copies of my book), or to contact me reference any questions, information, etc., please go to my ORDER BOOKS - CONTACT ME page, at the top of this website, or CLICK HERE.


Daytona Beach News-Journal
Copyright: 2006, The News-Journal Corp.
Date: Sunday, March 30, 2008
Edition: The Daily Journal
Story Headline: Slice of Vice

Misfits crash onto pages of ex-cop’s recent novel.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Two policemen sipped coffee at a traffic light when a nude male body crashed through the windshield onto the dashboard.
    "Boy, I bet that had to hurt,” one policeman commented to another as the glass-imbedded torso crawled toward the hood.
    The incident wasn’t a bad joke but a true story from the Miami Police Department, when Mike Berish of New Smyrna Beach was a beat cop.  Berish used the incident in a short story in his new book "Reflections From the Pit."
    The author shared the tale recently with ex-policemen, detectives and murder-mystery authors at Sleuthfest, a convention for Mystery Writers of America at Deerfield Beach.
Berish used the incident in a short story in his new book Reflections From the Pit.  On April 26, Berish will be among 14 Volusia County authors signing books at New Smyrna Beach Regional Library.
    “My work contains all these quirky characters and misfits,” Berish said in an interview at his oceanfront New Smyrna Beach home.
    The retired Miami vice detective’s book is a fiction short-story collection based on fact, but he is no ordinary vice cop.
    During the Reagan era, Berish helped shut down pornography stores plaguing Miami, like “the strip off Biscayne Boulevard that had problems with hookers, hotels and porno theaters,” he said.
    Berish testified at Attorney General Edwin Meese’s pornography hearings, and earned a chapter in Nobile and Nadler’s book: “United States of America vs. Sex.”  He worked 1,000 cases and had “an unparalleled success record,” said retired FBI agent Bill Kelly of Miami.
    "There were 23 adult porno stores in operation, and Mike was successful in getting 20 of them closed,” Kelly said.
    A few years ago, Kelly showed Berish’s work to a close friend — the late E. Howard Hunt, CIA agent under President Nixon who was caught in the Watergate scandal.  Hunt later authored more than 40 books.
    “I used to see Hunt twice a week and gave him one of Mike’s short stories and he reviewed it,” Kelly said.  He told Berish the review’s content but kept the reviewer secret until Hunt died in January 2007.
    Hunt said: “That fellow has a real talent for writing a story.  That’s excellent work.”
    Another claim-to-fame for Berish is the Don Johnson character “Sonny Crockett” in the 1980's Miami Vice TV series.  Producers came to Berish six months before filming.
    “They interviewed real vice cops and wrote down different things.  At that time, I had stubble growth on my face,” Berish
said.  He wore a rumpled sport coat and T-shirt and “told them a patrolman has to look neat because of regulations, but you can’t send a guy like that into the pit.”  He explained “the pit” was a nickname for the area teeming with vice, pornography and problems — the reason he chose it for his book title.
    Berish never shied from controversy and the book delves into a subject he said plagued the Miami Police Department — promotion by affirmative action.
    Dave Collis of Ponce Inlet, a retired Miami Beach police lieutenant, knew about the problem.
    “The last chapter I found very interesting because he hits on affirmative action,” Collis said.  “I should have left as a captain, but due to affirmative action — the first minority on the list is promoted even if they are 77th — so I left as a lieutenant.”
    Collis said he recognized some of Berish’s characters.

    “A lot of it is true but he changed the names because these people did exist,” Collis said, such as “a gambler on homicide, who got in trouble for it eventually but is dead now.”  Another was “the guy he found sitting in the chair dead.”
    Berish said he “fooled with the circumstances” but in truth, the dead man was found sunning in a backyard lawn chair after being dead for three days.

    NOTE: To order any of my books (either hardcover, paperback, E-books, new, used, or personalized authographed copies of my book), or to contact me reference any questions, information, etc., please go to my ORDER BOOKS - CONTACE ME page, at the top of this website, or CLICK HERE.

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