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In New York City's Spanish Harlem, police detectives Dan Madigan and Rocco Bonaro break into a sleazy apartment and arrest Barney Benesch, a hoodlum wanted for questioning by a Brooklyn precinct. Momentarily distracted by Benesch's nude girl friend, the two detectives are outwitted by Benesch, who escapes with their guns. When it is discovered that Benesch was wanted for homicide, Madigan and Bonaro are reprimanded by Police Commissioner Anthony X. Russell. Aside from this new problem, Russell is troubled by other matters: his married mistress, Tricia Bentley, has decided to end their relationship; a black minister, Dr. Taylor, is claiming that his teenaged son was subjected to brutality by racist policemen; and proof has been established that Russell's longtime friend and associate, Chief Inspector Kane, has accepted a bribe to protect a hangout for prostitutes. Irritated by the fact that Madigan and Bonaro broke the rules by working for another precinct, Russell gives the two men 72 hours to arrest Benesch. Despite the deadline, Madigan tries to spend some time with his wife, Julia, who is socially and sexually frustrated as a result of her husband's dangerous and time-consuming job. After Benesch shoots two policemen with Madigan's gun, the two detectives finally get a lead through bookie Midget Castiglione, who puts them in touch with Hughie, one of Benesch's pimps. Tracing Benesch to an apartment in Spanish Harlem, Madigan and Bonaro bring in a police cordon and order the killer to surrender. When he refuses, the two detectives rush the building and break down the door. In the exchange of gunfire, Madigan is fatally wounded before Bonaro can kill Benesch. Later, Russell tries to comfort Julia, but she accuses him of being a heartless administrator. As Russell leaves with Chief Inspector Kane, he tells him that tomorrow they will face the bribery problem together.