Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 18, Part 1

By Holice and Debbie



Its Origin, Progress and Development -- Detectives called "Shadows" in Chief Matsell's time -- Inspector Thomas Byrnes -- A Record that Reads like a Romance -- His Re-Organization of the Detective Force -- The Wall Street Bureau -- Detective Sergeants -- Inspector Byrnes' Methods -- How Detectives Detect Criminals -- Inspector Byrnes and "The Crook" -- Their Chance Meeting in the Street -- How Inspector Byrnes Reasons out a Case -- Decrease of Crime among Professional Criminals -- Criminals and Their Methods -- New York a Difficult City to Protect against Thieves -- Forgers, Pickpockets, Sneak Thieves, Bank Thieves, Bunco Steerers, Etc.

In Chief Matsell's time Detectives were called "shadows." After Sergeant Lefferts, who was appointed to the command of the Detective Squad in 1857, and who served for one year, Captain George W. Walling, of the City Hall Station, was placed in charge. He alternated between the Station house and he Detective office, which was in the basement of the then Headquarters, in Broome Street. He remained in command from 1858 to 1860. Next came John Young, who served from 1860 to 1867. He was succeeded by James J. Kelso, who was in charge from 1867 to 1870, and who retired to make room for James Irving. Irving's term extended from 1870 to 1875. Captain James Kealy was the next commandant, and remained as such from 1876 to 1880. Then the present incumbent, Inspector Thomas Brynes, took charge. This really marked the first serious and successful attempt to give New York City a Detective Department worthy of the name.

In the letter part of 1857 the board of Police adopted a resolution giving to the Deputy superintendent the power to detail to his office twenty policemen, to be designated "Detectives." This resolution was carried into effect by Deputy Superintendent Carpenter, by selecting those whose peculiar talents adapted them for such important service. Some of those men had for years belonged to the old force, and were attached to the ice of George W. Matsell. Others were highly recommended by their respective Captains. And others, newly appointed members, but whose character for integrity and experience of life in New York, rendered them valuable acquisitions to the Detective Force.

This force was divided into squads, each squad having particular cognizance of a certain class of crimes. Their instructions were to make themselves thoroughly conversant with the mode and manner by which each species of crime was committed, and the class of persons engaged in its commission.

Besides looking after these particular duties, they were directed to attend at night, all large assemblies, and to arrest or drive away all known pickpockets, or others whose actions led them to suppose they were pickpockets, or thieves of any kind. Also, to arrest any known pickpocket they might see in a crowd, and carefully to watch all known shoplifters, and to take such measures as they might deem expedient to prevent their committing any depredations.

Sergeant William H. Lefferts was appointed a special aid, and placed in command of this squad.

At the suggestion of Mr. Lefferts, there was established in the Detective office an ambrotype gallery, composed of pickpockets, shoplifters, watch-stuffers, etc., as well as those who were arrested for crime of a higher grade. This gallery was open to the view of the public, particularly those who had suffered by the loss of their property, or been otherwise imposed upon.

In 1850 the Detective force of New York and Brooklyn consisted of such number of Patrolmen, not exceeding forty, as the General Superintendent might detail for that service. The Detective force of Brooklyn was under the immediate command of the Deputy Superintendent; but the Detective force of New York, because of its larger number, was under the command of a Captain of the Police, and constituted a company corresponding to that of a precinct, and was subject to the general rules and regulations governing the company of a precinct. The members of the force in the different precincts assigned to Detective duties (if any) should report to the Captain of the Twenty-fifth Precinct (Detective Force), as well as to the Captain of their respective precincts, at or before nine o'clock each morning.

In 1866 other rules were adopted. Each member of the Detective Squad was obliged to make daily reports to the superintendent of the business transactions submitted to his care, the progress made therein, and the disposition and results in each case, and such report was certified to by the Captain in command of said squad. The likeness of persons collected for the use of the Detective Squad should not be exhibited to any person, unless such person was accompanied by an officer of the Department.

Other rules and regulations for the government of the Detective Squad were promulgated in the years 1873 and 1877, some of which maybe referred to briefly as follows:

A book of records, of complaints, and applications, calling for the services or attention of the Detective Squad, was kept in the Detective office under the supervision of the Superintendent; and the Superintendent, and in his absence, the Office Inspector, had supervision of all detective business in general and in detail; and it was the duty of the Superintendent, or in his absence, the Office Inspector, to give special attention to the business, and see that all proper Detective cases were diligently and properly attended to and worked up. The Captain and each member of the Detective Squad should report to the Superintendent, or in his absence, to the Office Inspector, all complaints and applications requiring the services of the Detective Squad, and have a proper record made thereof; and the Superintendent or his representative were authorized to assign officers to the investigation of all Detective cases; and each member of the Detective Squad should report to the Superintendent or Office Inspector concerning his action in each case assigned, from time to time, to his charge, and as often as required; such reports should b e verified by the Captain. A record of arrests, by the Detective Squad, of all persons imprisoned at the Central Department, was kept in the Detective office, in which were entered the name of the person arrested, with a full description of such person, the time and cause of arrest, and the disposition made of each prisoner the arrested. The Superintendent should, on the first of each month, make a report in writing to the board of Police for the month preceding such report, of all arrests by the Detective Squad, and of all persons held in custody at the Central Department, setting forth the time and cause of arrest in each case, and how and when each case was disposed of.

The officer commanding the Detective force should keep a blotter and record of all the Police transactions of the "Special Squad," with the lost time of all the members thereof, and make a morning return to the Superintendent, under the rules and regulations applicable to precincts, and make out and attend to the settlement of the pay-roll, and pay off the members of the Squad. He possessed the same powers, and performed the same duties relating to the discipline of the Squad as were conferred and enjoined on the Captains of precincts.

On May 25, 1882, the Detective Bureau was created by an Act of the legislature. This was done at the urgent solicitation of inspector Byrnes. Forty Detective Sergeants were then appointed, with an increased salary of one thousand sic hundred dollars per annum.

On May 8, 1883, all the Ward Detectives were consolidated under one head, and placed under Inspector Byrne's jurisdiction, he believing that untied action was necessary in order to cope more successfully with existing evils. Most of the Ward Detectives were sent on post duty, and their places filled by younger men from the various precincts. Subsequently, this arrangement was dispensed with, and the Ward Detectives were sent back to d service as before under the direct command of the Captain of their respective precincts.

INSPECTOR THOMAS BYRNES came to this country from Ireland when he was quite a child. In 1863 he was appointed Patrolman in the Fifteenth Precinct, and after five years of Patrol duty he was appointed Roundsman in the Third Precinct. In 1869 he was made Sergeant, and in 1870 attained the rank of Captain, when he was assigned to the Twenty-third Precinct. He was then successively transferred to the Twenty-third, Twenty-first and Fifteenth precincts, thence to the Broadway Squad. He then returned to the Fifteenth, and remained there until he was sent to Headquarters and took charge of the Detective Bureau. He was raised to the rank of Inspector in 1880.

When interrogated by the Roosevelt committee as to his official pedigree, Inspector Brynes gave the following responses:

By Mr. Russell:

Q. How old are you?
A. Forty-three, going on forty-four.
Q. You are now Inspector of Police, are you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. How long have you been Inspector?
A. Four years.
Q. Of what Bureau are you the head?
A. The Detective Bureau.
Q. Have you been the head of that
Bureau ever since you were appointed Inspector?
A. Before that, while I was under Captain.
Q. How long have you been in the Police force.
Nearly twenty-one years.
Q. What is the date of your first appointment?
A. December 16, 1863.
Q. As patrolman?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. How long did you remain a Patrolman?
A. About four years.
Q. And then you became what?
A. Roundsman, Sergeant and Captain.
Q. When did you become a Roundsman?
A. Latter part of 1868.
Q. How long were you a Roundsman?
A. Tenor twelve months.
Q. And then you were appointed Sergeant?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. How long a Sergeant?
A. About a year.
Q. And was appointed Captain when?
A. I think it was in 1870; July 1, 1870.
Q. And you remained a Captain until what date?
A. April 23, 1880.
Q. You were in what precinct as Captain?
A. Twenty-first, Fifteenth, and Twenty-first.
Q. What is the number of the precinct where you were when you first came here?
A. The Fifteenth.
Q. And it was in your precinct that the Manhattan Bank burglary occurred?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you got a good share of the burglars?
A. I did; we became intimate; you were assistant District Attorney at the time in t the prosecution of those cases.
Q. When you became Inspector of Police, or when you took charge of the
Detective Bureau, what was done?
A. the commissioners sent for me.
Q. What Commissioners?
Mr. French, he was president of the Board, and I assume he was very desirous making a change in that Bureau; he thought it was inefficient in some respects, and wanted to have it reorganized; I was transferred there on the Twelfth of March, 1880. I found there some twenty-eight or thirty men, some of whom had been there for very many years; the place was in a state of disorganization; there did not appear to be any head of it at all, and I came to the conclusion that morning, after calling the roll and looking the men over, that if there was any Detective talent in the Police Department, it should be used during the daytime in the lower part of the city. On that day, the twelfth of March, I went down to Wall Street, and hired an office, No. 17, and stationed ten men there, from nine and a half in the morning until four in the afternoon. A day or two after that Mr. Brayton Ives has an interview wit me and asked what I intended to do. I told him that I intended, if possible, to protect those gentlemen from thieves, as there had been a great deal of money for the last four or five years stolen there, amounting probably to one or two million dollars; he asked me how he could assist me in any way. I said if anything occurs in your office you would have to send to Police Headquarters, over two miles. In establishing this Bureau I intend to connect it, with telephone, to every bank and banking house in every part of New York, and you ought to have an officer from the time you ask for him by telephone, in any part of the lower section of the city, in any of those banks or banking houses, in the course of from one to five minutes. He thought it was a very good thing and called a meeting of the Committee of the Stock Exchange, and I was called before them, and made that statement to them. I said: "If I come here and do your   work, and do it for nothing, and be able to do it better than anybody else (and what I do I am responsible for), you will give me your work after awhile quicker than to a man that is responsible to nobody."

Q. Give us the result?
A. They gave me an office in the Stock Exchange; they connected that office by telephone with every bank and banking house in the lower part of New York, so that if anyof those banking houses want an officer, in about five minutes I can have a Detective in any bank in the lower part of New York.
Was it the wish on the part of the Police Commissioners that you should take charge of that work?
A. the Police commissioners expressed the wish through Mr. French.
You are at liberty to express to this committee what the result has been? 
Immediately after that--if you will pardon me and let me go back, the twelfth of March 1880, I think it was, twenty-one men out of twenty-eight were transferred from the office--and their places substituted by new men whom I selected from various parts of the city, and educated them to do Detective duty. From the twelfth of March, 1880, until to-day, they have not lost a ten cent stamp in Wall Street by a professional thief; not a penny, not a cent. 
Q. Have you in your possession the statistics of the arrests made through your Bureau? 
A. I think I can give it to you. 
Q. You may state, if you will, the work of your Bureau for the last few years. 
A. I would like to state here that from the Twelfth of Match, 1876, to the twelfth of March, 1880, there were one thousand nine hundred and forty-three Arrests made by the Detective force for the four years previous to my going to that office; they got five hundred and five years of conviction; for the four years that I have been there, ending on the twelfth of last month, there were three thousand three hundred and twenty-four person arrested, and they got two thousand four hundred and eighty-eight years, two months, and three days of conviction; we have recovered nearly six hundred thousand dollars' worth of property. 
Q. State in detail; take each of those cases that you have tabulated?
A. I have them marked down here as follows: "Misdemeanors"------.
Q. State them in detail?
A. there were one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four felonies, eighty hundred
and thirty-fours felonies, eight hundred and thirty-six misdemeanors, six hundred and thirty-four suspicious persons; arrested for insanity, fifteen; Truancy, forty-six; for violating the poor law, twenty-nine; gambling, twenty-five; felonies, and delivered to the authorities of other cities, two hundred and eighteen; sent to the State Prison, three hundred and fifty-eight; to the Penitentiary, two hundred and ninety-one; to the City Prison, fifty-nine; to House of Refuge, twenty-seven; Elmira, ninety-four; hanged, one; arrested for murder, thirty-five."

When Inspector Byrnes accepted his present trust, and was transferred to Police Headquarters, on the twelfth of March, 1880, he found, after he had assumed control, thirty-one men classified as Detectives, a clerk who was not a member of the Police force, and who simply kept the books of the office without any responsibility being imposed on him other than that of an ordinary employee. These Detectives had been at Police Headquarters for several years, had grown old in the service, and a great many of them were unfit to perform their duties satisfactorily. There were also some young men among them, who had not the slightest conception of their duty as Detective officers, who used to loll around in the morning until the roll was called. Nobody had the remotest idea where these men kept themselves from the time they left the office in the morning until roll-call on the following morning. Inspector Byrnes, from his intimate knowledge of the Police Department, having risen from the ranks, and having had charge of a precinct adjoining Police Headquarters for a number of years, had a thorough knowledge of the ability and shortcomings of almost every man in the office.

When the Inspector took command at Headquarters, had called the roll, and had looked the men over, he came to the conclusion that there must be a radical change, and that the worthless members should b e promptly weeded out. This was no easy task. The duties and responsibilities of his office were of the most trying and onerous nature, but Inspector Byrnes, with his characteristic energy, overcame them all. He soon fashioned the raw material of his office into shape, and under his manipulation the Detective Department, from being a very unpretentious and not over useful arm of the Police service, suddenly blazed into national important, earning in an inconceivably short space of time, a world wide reputation.

In the neighborhood of Wall Street, where a great portion of the financial business of the country is transacted, gangs of thieves of the better class--such as bank sneaks, forgers, and adroit pickpockets, had for years been carrying on their depredations. The disappearance of tin boxes containing money, bonds and valuable papers, was almost of monthly occurrence, and complaints were very frequent. The Inspector thought that the men engaged in Wall Street and that neighborhood, who were doing a business of millions and millions every day, were entitled to special Police protection. About eleven o'clock on the same day that he had been appointed to take charge of the Detective Bureau, he went down town and hired a room at his own expense at No. 17 Wall Street. He returned to his office, and the next morning selected none of his best men and sent them down to the new office to cover that section of the city bounded by Fulton Street on the north, Greenwich on the west, down to the Barry, and across to the East River. He at once gave positive orders to his men to arrest any thief that might be found within the specified district who could not give a good account of himself as being there for legitimate purposes. On the afternoon of the thirteenth of March, 1880, Brayton Ives, who was President of the Stock Exchange, sent for the Inspector, and asked him what he intended doing in that locality relative to the protection of business interests. Inspector Byrnes said that he intended to establish a special Detective bureau in Wall Street, and that he would succeed in protecting business people from the machinations of thieves. The Inspector further explained to Mr. Ives that the New York Police Detectives were a responsible body, and that the private Detectives, who were often employed by financiers, were in a great many cases no over scrupulous in their official dealings. The result of the interview was, that the President of the Stock Exchange invited Inspector Byrnes to take possession of, and establish his business in, a room of the Stock Exchange. This invitation was accepted, and ten or twelve Detectives are now constantly on and in that building. So complete is the system thus established that, on receipt of a call, a Detective can be sent to almost any place in the lower part of the city in two or three minutes. There is, in fact, no more perfect system of Detective supervision in any part of the world, and, as a consequence, thieves have given Wall Street and its vicinity a wide berth, whereas previously thousands had been stolen.

While stationed in the Twenty-third Precinct, Inspector Byrnes saved a number of lives at a fire.

In the Twenty-third Precinct he broke up gangs of thieves, and sent a large number of them to prison.



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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