In a Sea of Protesters, One Mysterious, and Well-Dressed, Officer

There are many unknowns about the Occupy Wall Street protest in downtown Manhattan: Where is the next march? Who are its leaders? What do they really want? When will it end? But an even bigger question, perhaps, has emerged: Who is the Hipster Cop?

The questions keep popping up about the nattily dressed plainclothes officer who has become a fixture at the protest camp at Zuccotti Park.

What are his name, rank and precinct? And does he live in Williamsburg, or Bushwick? Is he really pressing protesters for planning secrets? And does he wear skinny jeans off-duty? Is he into fixed-gear bikes and the Fleet Foxes?

He has become an instant local celebrity and a fascination of online coverage. Blogs anointed him the “hipster cop’’ and mused about his identity. Twitter users posted snapshots of him. Online sleuths matched the snapshots to those of a community affairs detective in the First Precinct named Rick Lee.

Now it can be told: the officer is indeed Detective Lee, who confessed when approached by a reporter at the park.

“That’s what they call me,” he said with a slightly exasperated sigh.

“I will reveal that I wear skinny jeans off-duty,” he said, adding that the department frowns upon wearing them on-duty.

Detective Lee is 45 but looks much younger. He is slim, with a shaggy hairstyle, cool-nerd eyeglasses and an ironic smile. His wardrobe usually includes cardigan sweaters, glasses and skinny ties to go along with his skinny trousers.

Gawker and Gothamist, among other Web sites, have chronicled his omnipresence at Occupy Wall Street protests, whether at Zuccotti Park, where he can often be seen engaging with protesters, or at boisterous marches around town.

In an interview on Monday, Detective Lee revealed that he favors organic food and eschews coffee and doughnuts. His taste in music runs to Radiohead and the Killers.

He was wearing snug wool slacks, a print tie and a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.

“I’m into fashion, always have been,” he said, adding that his suits are hand-tailored by a friend who works for Ralph Lauren.

Certainly Detective Lee’s natty style and cool demeanor stand out against the protesters in sleep-rumpled clothes, the blue-uniformed police officers around the park’s perimeter and the daytime office crowd passing by in business attire.

He seemed amused at his emergence as one of the few recognizable figures in the protest story.

“I think it’s funny,” said Detective Lee, who lives on Staten Island. “I’m not a blog guy, so I haven’t really seen a lot of the hipster mentions.”

Apart from his wardrobe, Detective Lee has played a serious role at Zuccotti Park since protesters started camping there a month ago. He has been one of the department’s main liaisons with the protesters. He conveys departmental and community concerns and tries to get information about the protesters’ plans.

He has been working overtime, seven days a week. Detective Lee incurred the wrath of protesters early on when they read reports that he had said at a community meeting that protesters were technically trespassing and could be evicted by the park’s owner. Some protesters cautioned others that as a police official he was still the enemy.

One writer on a blog called The Sparrow Project said that it was important to remember that “Hipster Cop is part of the process of intimidation, ridicule and violence being levied against us.”

Jamie Kilstein, a comedian, posted a Twitter message defending the detective: “Guys! Stop making fun of #hipstercop! He’s trying to find himself.”

Protesters stopped to speak to Detective Lee as he walked through the encampment on Monday.

Detective Lee told a small group that his role was to try to keep a dialogue open so that the Police Department could “protect everybody’s rights,” and to try to keep things safe both in the park and at demonstrations.

“It’s nothing personal – we just want you to stay safe,” he said.

He spoke with one protester and asked why the protester would not speak to him when they crossed paths at a rally in Times Square last Saturday.

“It makes me a little nervous sometimes that you guys know me so well,” the protester replied.

One woman was angry that protesters were talking to Detective Lee. “If he was a white-shirt, you wouldn’t be talking to him,’’ she said, referring to higher-ranking officers who wear white shirts. One of those officers became an unwitting star when amateur videos showed him shooting pepper spray at protesters who were contained behind an orange police netting.

“Not everybody likes us,” Detective Lee said to the group. One protester brought up pay inequity, and Detective Lee replied, “Yes, 39 percent of my paycheck is taken out in taxes, so we have a lot in common.”

One protester, Brendan Blood, 19 of Scranton, Pa., told Detective Lee that he had been arrested four times during demonstrations.

Detective Lee told him to follow police orders to avoid arrest.

Another protester, Mike Leonard, 21, of Sayreville, N.J., stopped to chat with the detective about a friend of Mr. Leonard’s who wore the same sunglasses as the officer.

“He’s got a heart,” Mr. Leonard said of Detective Lee.

Detective Lee said he worked as a carpenter after high school and had shoulder-length hair. At the urging of his father, a retired New York firefighter, he joined the Police Department at age 25. He is now four months away from being eligible to retire.

He looked out over Zuccotti Park from a familiar spot on the perimeter and said, “Maybe I’ll grow my hair long again and join these guys.”

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