Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 13, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie




New York Fast Becoming a Law Abiding City -- Proceedings and Report of the Select Legislative Committee on the Causes and Increase of Crime -- Government of the Police Force -- Demoralization and Inefficiency--All the Blame for these Evils not Attributed to the Police -- Convictions hard to Gain -- Legal Loop-holes of Retreat for Criminals -- Lottery and Policy -- The Detective Police Not Properly Remunerated for their Services--Salary and Duties of patrolmen, etc.--The Board of Police Commissioners -- Evil Effects of Political Intermeddling with the Force -- Too Few Policemen -- The Great Railroad Strikes -- Scenes of Riot and Bloodshed -- The Tompkins Square Meeting -- "New York Says Stop!"-- New Rules for the Guidance of the Force.

Much a has been said and written about the wickedness of "Gotham," New York, after all, is not so bad a city for a law-abiding citizen to live in. That it holds within its gates some hard citizens no one will be bold enough to gainsay; but that New York, on the whole, is worse then any other city of its size, in population and commercial importance, is an allegation which can easily be refuted, as the fact are at hand to do so. Perhaps in no city in the world of its cosmopolitan character is there such protection against the criminal operations of professional robbers and the machinations of all classes of thieves and swindlers. Indeed, from a Police point of view, New York, generally speaking, is at present an orderly, well-conducted city, where he higher grades of crime are remarkably few and infrequent. This change, however, has taken place within a comparatively short space of time. Up to a few years ago the criminal classes were particularly old and successful in their operations, but thanks to an improved Police system, and a Detective Department second to none in the world, New York has had a breathing spell; but, perhaps, it would not be too much of a concession to make in deference to a pessimistic public opinion, to admit that there is still room for improvement.

The city, it would seem, was drifting into particularly bad habits about the year 1875. There was a good deal of complaining that the Police were not doing their whole duty, and that too much deference was being paid by them to the comfort and interests of criminals as a class, and to little to the peace of mind of taxpayers and citizens generally. That there was some foundation for these complaints is but too conclusively proven by the proceedings and report of the select committee appointed by the Assembly in 1875 "to investigate the causes of the increase of crime in the city of New York.' The resolution under which their authority was conferred runs as follows:

Whereas, the steady and rapid increase of crime in the city and country of New York has created great alarm in the minds of all good citizens of that city; and

Whereas, the proper authorities charged with its apprehension, prosecution and punishment appear to be inadequate to its speedy suppression, while the interest of good government require that all offences against the law should be dealt with in the most summary and decisive manner, therefore,

Resolved, that the Speaker of the Assembly be and he is hereby authorized to appoint a select committee of five, which committee shall have power to send for persons and papers, and compel the attendance of witnesses, and to inquire into the causes, as far as possible, of the great increase of crime in said city and county, by making such examination and investigation of all persons and officers * * * * * for the purpose of ascertaining if such increase of crime can be charged to the negligence, or connivance of any of the public officers whose duty it is either to arrest, detect, prosecute or punish crime in said city and County of New York.

The duties so imposed on the committee naturally brought under their investigation the Board of Municipal Police; the Criminal Courts, from the Police Justices to the Court of Oyer and Terminer; the Coroners; the District Attorney; and all the penal institutions, public and private; and in addition to this, owing to the overwhelming evidence that intemperance was the chief cause of crime, the committee deemed it proper to inquire fully into the affairs of the board of Excise. The testimony taken gives a condensed history of the Police Department, and throws a lurid light on the condition and management of the criminal classes in New York City, presenting a picture of moral degradation that is anything but pleasing to look upon. The report covers nearly three thousand printed pages. In condensed form this report tell the following story:

The Police Force of the city is governed by a Board of four commissioners of Police, appointed for terms of six years, expiring at different periods, by the Mayor, with the advice and consent of the Board of Aldermen. The force, under the government of the Commissioners, consisted of one superintendent, four Inspectors, thirty-four Captains, one hundred and twenty-six Sergeants, one hundred and forty-two Roundsmen, two thousand one hundred and seventeen Patrolmen, and seventy-three Doormen. The city was divided into thirty territorial precincts, twenty-right of which were commanded by Captains and two by Sergeants. In addition to these, there were the Sanitary company, commanded by a Captain; the Harbor Police, employing a steamboat and rowboats, commanded by a Captain; the Broadway Squad, designed to help people across Broadway in the day time, commanded by a Captain; while one Captain had charge of the drilling of the Patrolmen; another was Superintendent of the Street Cleaning Department, and another one was under him in command of certain scows attached to that department. Besides these, there were the Mounted Squad, consisting of fourteen men; the Steamship Squad, of twenty-two men; the Headquarters Detectives, twelve in number; the House of Detention, commanded by a Sergeant, and employing four Policemen; and five Court Squads, each commanded by a Sergeant, and employing in the aggregate forty-seven Policemen.

The precincts were divided into four Inspection Districts, each of which was commanded by an Inspector, and the superintendent had power over the whole force. All orders from the Board were issued to him alone, and the Police force should receive their orders from him alone. The committee claimed that "great abuses had sprung up in the past from individual commissioners issuing orders to the superintendent, and even to the superintendent's subordinates, without consulting him."

Having gone pretty extensively into certain classes of crime that existed in the city, the committee say: "In this connection it is proper to say that all the blame (for the existence of these evils) must not be paid upon the shoulders of the Police. Again and again house of prostitution that were disorderly have been 'pulled' (a Police term, meaning arrested,) and the inmates taken before the Magistrates; again and again Magistrates have dismissed such cases, either from an honest opinion that the testimony was insufficient for a conviction, which was assuredly in most cases erroneous, or from some other less creditable motive. Hundreds of others have been held by Magistrates, have been given bail to go to the General Sessions, have been indicted there, and nothing has been ever been done with them. After giving bail they resumed business directly, either in the same place or in an immediately adjoining one."

Referring to gambling houses, the report declares: "While very great improvements in respect to the number of gambling houses has taken place, especially since the sessions of this committee began, we cannot doubt that there is room for still further amelioration of the condition of the city in this respect; and it will only come when the existence of a gambling house for nay length of time in the precinct of a Captain is made adequate cause for his dismissal from the force. Several of the best officers have indicated their willingness to be subjected to a rule that shall hold their positions responsible for the continued existence of gambling houses within thirty days after power is given them to suppress it."

Very interesting information concerning lottery and policy was obtained by the committee: "the lowest, meanest, worst form, however, which gambling takes in the city of New York, is what is known as policy playing." Policy was described by one of the witnesses, who was competent to give an opinion on such a subject, as "a parasite on lottery.' Policy selling appears to be a betting by individuals with policy dealers upon the result of the daily drawing of the lotteries in Kentucky. It does not involve the purchase of a lottery ticket, but is merely a private wager upon the result of a lottery drawing. A number of people, estimated by some at as large as a figure as eleven hundred at times, were, at the time in question, engaged in the business of selling policy in the city of New York; by far the greater portion of the purchasers were found among the poorest, lowest, and the most ignorant classes of the community. One of the witnesses (himself a large policy dealer) made this remarkable statement, as coming from him: "It (policy) is a right down incorporated swindle from the word 'go,' right through; it ought to be stopped. To make a long story short, it makes boys steal revenue stamps and go and sell them, and women take the bank-book of the men, and when they want to go into business, where's the money? It takes the pennies off dead men's eyes."

A curious incident is related by the committee in their report (p. 23) of the power of the "Central Organization" (a body that controlled the dealers of branch offices), and the reasons why the Police were unable to suppress these criminals. A curious illustration of the intense folly, to say the least, of the way in which Courts deal with policy, will be found in the testimony of Captain Hedden (p. 463). Discharging his duty efficiently and intelligently, and, indeed in the only way in which it could be discharged, he sent an officer in plain clothes to purchase a policy slip; upon that the arrested the dealer, who was discharged by the Court on the ground that the Policeman was a party to the crime.

The detective system of the city was divided into two branches, the Headquarters Detectives and the Ward Detectives. The Headquarters Detective force consisted of about twenty-five men under the command of a Captain, up to January, 1875. The Ward Detectives were about two in number in each precinct, although varying; there being sometimes only one, and sometimes three or four. The duties of the Headquarters Detectives wee the investigation of crimes assigned o them for that purpose by the Superintendent. The duties of the Ward Detectives were also the investigation of crimes in the precincts, and in this respect they and their Captains at times clashed with the Headquarters Detectives.

The Headquarters Detectives had continued pretty nearly unchanged for a good many years, saving the natural changes that arose from the passage of time, "and there is no doubt whatever that in shrewdness, inexperience, and in capacity, many of them were abundantly equal to the duties imposed upon them." The pay of the Detectives was precisely the same as that of the Patrolmen, one thousand two hundred dollars a year, and no increased compensation was given even to the oldest and most experienced officer among them, except when he was allowed by the grace of the Board to received some portion of the reward paid for the recover of stolen property. In rank and in salary the oldest Detective stood merely on a par with the newest patrolman who walked his beat.

A patrolman, on his joining the force, which he did after swearing to a considerable variety of things, and after being certified to by a number of reputable citizens who has known him for five years, and after passed medial examination as to qualifications, was put in the school of instruction, under a Drill Captain, for a month. Upon receiving his appointment, and before entering the school of instruction, he became a full patrolman, and no power existed in the Board to get rid of him except upon trial in the same manner as with any officer. At the end of a month, or, if he proved an exceptionally stupid scholar, at the end of two months, he went upon the force, and from the hour that he received his appointment he drew pay at the rate of one thousand two hundred dollars per year, the same not only as the oldest and most experienced patrolmen, but as any Roundsman on the force.

It was the duty of Roundsmen, who were attached to each precinct, to traverse the precinct from point to point, in order to see that the Patrolmen were discharging their duty faithfully.

Above them in grade stand the Sergeants, who received one thousand six hundred per year, who were appointed by the board at pleasure, after an examination was held, and four of whom were attached to each precinct, while a few others discharged independent duty, such as the command of Court Squads, etc. The Sergeants in turn presided at the desk in the station house, and kept the "blotter," so-called, a book in which, with great minuteness of detail, all the transactions of Police life are entered. The Sergeant, while presiding at the deck in the absence of the Captain, exercises the authority of the Captain, and their position requires grave judgment and very considerable capacity, coolness and courage.

Above the Sergeants rank the Captains, who received two thousand dollars per annum. Those in command of the precincts were absolutely supreme, under the control, of course, of their superior officers and of the law

In rank above the Captains were four Inspectors, whose salary was three thousand five hundred dollars apiece, and who, up to the summer of 1875, were located as follows: one was in charge of the Street Cleaning Bureau, another acted as a sort of deputy to the Superintendent, and the other two daily inspected and reported to the Superintendent. This system was done away with, and the city was divided into four inspection districts, of which the two most important, the First and Second, included the who of the city below forty-second Street, and these were commanded by the two oldest and most experienced Inspectors. The Inspectors were also given authority, each in his district, over the Captains. The Captains, reported daily to them, and they reported an abstract to the Superintendent. A small force, two Sergeants and a Roundsman, was allotted to each Inspector.

Above the Inspectors stand the Superintendent, whose salary is six thousand dollars per annum, and who holds, perhaps, in some respects, one of the most important places in the Untied States. Beyond all question, more duties devolve upon the superintendent than it is possible for nay man to do well.

The Board of Police commissioners consists of four commissioners, appointed by the Mayor, one of whom, elected by his associates as President, draws a salary of eight thousand dollars, while the other three received six thousand dollars each. They are entrusted with the absolute government of the whole Police force of the city of New York, subject only to such restrictions as the legislature has provided in its laws. All the rules and regulations of the deponent emanate from them, and in addition to that, all the appointment and all the promotions are made by them. The trials of all the offenses charged against Policemen, from petty offenses against the military code, such as a disordered button, up to the very greatest charges, are held before on or all of the Commissioners, and are decided by the Board, as a Board. In addition, the legislature imposed upon the Commissioners the management of the cleaning of the streets of the city of New York, a vast labor, which employed a vast number of men and carts, and, which required the almost incessant attention of one at least of the commissioners. The commissioners were further obliged to take charge of the Bureau of elections, which, during a large portion of the year, consumed a great deal of their time. They appoint all the inspectors of election, something over two thousand in number, and all the poll clerks; they designate all the polling places; in fact, machinery of election is under their direct and immediate control. The President of the Board of Police is, in addition, a member of the Health Board.

"One of the greatest difficulties experienced in procuring an efficient Police, has been, the committee finds, the continual inter-meddling of politicians with the government of the force. Patrolmen have generally been appointed through political influence, promotions have been made on the same ground, and even details for duty have frequently been regulated in the same manner. * * * * * the present Board have announced to the force that any officer who procures politicians to attempt to influence the action of the Board, will receive no consideration at their hands, and it is to be hoped that the steady enforcement of this rule may lead to the abatement of this intolerable nuisance. * * *

There were not enough Policemen in New York, the committee concluded. It appears that the total number of might posts in the city at this time was eight hundred and twenty. The aggregate length of the night posts was eight hundred and twenty-five miles, three furlongs, thirty-eight rods and five yards. The average length of each night post was one mile and two rods. The total force of Patrolmen in patrol precincts was one thousand nine hundred and forty-six. Average absent from any cause, our hundred and eight. Average effective force on each night, seven hundred and sixty-nine. Average length of each actual night post, one mile, twenty-three rods, and two yards. Aggregate length of day posts, eight hundred and twenty-five miles, three furlongs thirty-eight rods and five yards. Average effective day force, three hundred and eighty-four. Average length of each actual day post, two miles and four rods. A patrolman was required while walking his beat at night to examine the door of every house on his post and to see whether or not it was closed securely. When the average length of such a post is considered, one mile and upwards of twenty-three rods, it may be imagined easily ho w long it takes a Patrolman to get from one end of his beat to the other, and how long an interval must ensue after the time at which he leaves any given point on his beat before he returns to it again. * * * The committee concluded "that five hundred additional Policemen were absolutely essential to the safety of the lives and property of the citizens of New York."

The report of Superintendent Walling, announcing the death of Inspector Francis C. Speight, March 30, 1877, was the occasion for the Board to pass resolutions of sympathy and condolence. He was appointed a Patrolman during the first term as Mayor of William F. Havemeyer, and attained the rank of Captain in 1854; in 1857 he became a member of the Metropolitan Police force, and was promoted to the rank of Inspector on the eleventh day of August, 1874. During an unusually extended term of office, he discharged its difficult duties faithfully, vigorously, and, as appears by his record, to the evident satisfaction of the numerous superior officers under whom he served.

Upon the report of Inspector Thorne announcing the death of inspector John McDermott, the nineteenth of April 1880, the Board passed the following:

Whereas, John McDermott, late an Inspector of the Police force, deceased, was appointed a Patrolman of Police of the city of New York, December 24, 1859, a Roundsman January 26, 1863, a Sergeant November 15, 1865, a Captain October 19, 1869, and an Inspector May 31, 1872, and during this extended term of office, he discharged its difficult duties faithfully, vigorously, and, as appears by his record, to the evident satisfaction of the numerous superior officers under whom he served. He died on the nineteenth of April, inst., in the forty-seventh year of his age.

Resolved, that in the death of Inspector McDermott the Department and the public lose a prompt, efficient, courteous and faithful officer whose record of official action is commended to the force as an example worthy of study and emulation.

Resolved, that the sympathy of the Board is tendered to the family, relatives, and friends of the deceased in their deep affliction.

The great railroad strikes which convulsed the country in 1877, leading to desperate encounters between the rioters and the militia, were fortunately brought to a sudden stop just as an attempt had been made to organize those dangerous forces in open mass meetings in the heart of the socialistic district in this city. these railroad strikes had been unprecedented in their extent. Beginning in Martinsburg, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the strikes and attendant disorders spread to all the great lines in the central and western part of the Union, in rapid succession. The hard times had pressed heavily on the hard worked masses, and the lowering of wages by railroad corporations provoked discontent and aroused a retaliatory spirit among the men. It is a coincidence worthy of note, that those scenes of disorder were also enacted, like the draft and orange riots, in the month of July. So serious had grown the situation in a little time, that the President of the United States issued a proclamation in which all good citizens were admonished against countenancing, abetting, or taking part in such unlawful proceedings, and all persons engaged in or connected with said domestic violence and obstruction of laws, were warned to disperse and retire peaceably on their respective abodes on or before twelve o'clock noon, on the nineteenth of July, instant.

Scenes of riot and bloodshed were witnessed in the streets of Baltimore, in which the mob was fired upon by the military. In the conflict between thirty and forty of the mob were killed or wounded, and none were killed outright.

Pittsburg was the next city to experience the fury of the strikers, and a general revolt spread like a devouring flame along the line of the great railroads. The country had been thoroughly aroused, and no one knew where the trouble would end. Reading was the next point to feel the force of the storm, while Philadelphia and Scranton soon became centres of similar troubles.



Our Police Protectors, History of the New York Police, Published for the benefit of the Police Pension Fund, by Augustine Costello, Published by Author, 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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