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This NYPD detective had a secret: Her past

Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop
Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop 41:13

Katrina Cooke Brownlee was spending another night out on the streets of New York City. This is what she wanted and what she trained for. Katrina was an undercover NYPD police officer. But the drug dealers and pimps she interacted with — and secretly recorded — didn't know that. Neither did the prostitutes that Katrina, in disguise, met on the streets.

While undercover posing as a prostitute, Katrina's mission was to arrest pimps and those soliciting prostitution. However, she quickly felt a connection with the women she encountered.

"Being out there in the streets, doing undercover work with the young ladies, you learn that everybody has a story and everybody's story is different," says Katrina. "But everybody come[s] from the same pain."

Katrina Brownlee
"My story starts from a very dark place, and it becomes a story of grace, a story of love and a story of hope," says Katrina Brownlee. CBS News

Katrina's pain began more than a decade earlier and a world away. She was a struggling 18-year-old single mom living in Brooklyn when she met Alex Irvin, a New York City Correction Officer, who she says had all the trappings of success: a fancy car, a career and a gun. They soon moved in together and had a daughter. 

"So, when I get into this relationship with this person, it's a way out," Katrina tells "CBS Saturday Morning" correspondent Michelle Miller for "Katrina Brownlee: The Good Cop." "I was in survival mode."

But Katrina almost didn't survive her relationship with Irvin, who she says repeatedly beat her. Katrina says she called 911 several times, but that Irvin would use what she calls "the blue wall of silence" against her.

"He would flash that badge," says Katrina. "And every time he flashed that badge, they would walk away. … That badge was much more important than my life."

On January 9, 1993, Katrina almost lost her life when – after leaving Irvin and taking her children to live in a motel – Katrina says she returned to their Medford, Long Island, home for clothes. That's when Katrina says she walked into a trap.

"He pointed a gun to me and said, 'This is the day you die, bitch,'" Katrina remembers. "And he shot me in my stomach. And then he shot me again."

Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the correction officer emptied his service revolver two times at the mother of two.

As Katrina lay bleeding on the floor, a friend of Irvin's family visited unexpectedly. That family friend picked Katrina up and took her to the hospital.  She was rushed into surgery, but doctors were unable to remove six of the bullets that had entered her body, says Katrina.

When she awoke, Katrina says the doctor delivered some grim news.

"He came and told me that I was shot 10 times, that I would never walk again … and wouldn't live a normal life," Katrina remembers. "And he began to tell me that it's going to be something that I have to learn to live with."

In spite of the prognosis, Katrina found the strength and will to make a full recovery. Though she could eventually walk again, Katrina then became homeless and had to live in a shelter on the Lower East Side.  With her two young daughters in tow, Katrina says they often had to wash up in a nearby McDonald's. 

As Katrina made a way out of the darkness, she decided to become what she says she needed all those years ago before she was shot: a good cop.

"Why not?" asks Katrina. "Why wouldn't I want to help protect and serve? Just because I didn't receive it, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't want to help others."

When asked what makes a "good cop," Katrina said: "You have integrity, you have morals, you have empathy, you have sympathy, you have respect. You treat people the way that you want yourself to be treated, the way you want your family to be treated. That's what a good cop is."

In July 2001, Katrina was hired by the New York City Police Department and became one of 1,600 new recruits sworn in at the NYPD Police Academy. It had been eight-and-a-half years since her brutal attack, but Katrina didn't tell any of her fellow police cadets her secret.

Katrina Brownlee
Katrina Brownlee became a top-ranked detective and one of the few Black women in the NYPD chosen to protect a New York City mayor. She even kept her history of being abused from then-Mayor Bill de Blasio until their last meeting together. Katrina Brownlee

As Katrina moved up the ranks, she says she decided to never tell anyone about her painful past for fear that it would hurt her career. She worried that some at the NYPD would question if she was fit to serve, "feeling that I was maybe scarred or maybe wouldn't be able to handle the job or I'm carrying a firearm," said Katrina. "Also, it was another law enforcement person that had committed a crime against me. It was just a lot of layers of things, and I just did not feel comfortable with sharing it."

Despite her concerns, Katrina continued to excel, even becoming a detective first-grade, the NYPD's highest investigative rank. She finished her career as an elite member of the New York City mayor's security detail – one of the few Black women in NYPD history to do so.

In 2021, Katrina retired from the NYPD after 20 years on the force — and 20 years of holding in her secret past. She is now ready to unburden herself and share her story.

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