Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 3, Part 3

By Holice and Debbie


 On January 4, 1808, the Common Council passed a law for the better regulation of the City Watch. Six persons were appointed (citizens and householders) who were denominated Captains of the Night-Watch, and place in command of the other Watchmen. In like manner, six assistant Captains were appointed, to take charge of the Watch and do other duties during the night when the Captain was absent from the watch-house upon his necessary duties. Such assistants, in addition to his pay as Watchman was entitled to receive the sum of eighteen cents for every night he was so employed. Other watchmen were likewise appointed, and placed under the command and directions of the Captains of the Night-Watch; and twelve other persons were added to each of the companies of the Watch, and were denominated substitutes. They possessed the same power and were subject to the same regulations, and, when employed, were entitled to the same pay as the regulars.

It was the duty of the Captains to fix the stations or rounds of the Watchmen within their respective districts; to prescribe the duties of the Watchmen and to see that such duties were faithfully executed; to visit each of the fixed stations of the Watchmen under his command at least once every night.

Each Captain was entitled to receive $1.50 for every night's actual service, and each of the other Watchmen, 75 cents.

Each Captain and every other Watchman should obey all orders given by the Mayor, Recorder or either of the Aldermen, and also of the Justices of the Police, on pain of removal from office.

The above ordinance was followed by the appointment of forty-eight Watchmen.

The City hall park at this period was a piece of enclosed ground consisting of about four acres, planted with elms, palms, willows, and catalpas, the surrounding foot-walks being encompassed with rows of poplars. "This beautiful grove," in the language of a writer of the period, "in the middle of the city, combines in a high degree ornament wit health and pleasure; and to enhance the enjoyment of the place, the English and French Reading-room, the Shakespeare Gallery, and the theatre, offer ready amusement to the mind; while the Mechanics' Hall, the London Hotel, and the New York Gardens present instant refreshment to the body. Though the trees are but young, and of few years' growth, the Park may be pronounced an elegant and improving place." The City Hall Park apparently has not improved with age. It would hardly be in accordance with the facts to describe it now as "an elegant and improving place."

By act of the legislature, passed April 8, 1808, any person convicted of petit larceny before any court of general sessions of the peace, should be punished by fine, not exceeding $200, or imprisoned in the county jail or prison any term of time not exceeding three years, or by whipping not exceeding thirty-nines lashes for one offense. This law made it the duty of any of the courts of general sessions of the peace, where any corporal punishment should be directed to be inflicted, as aforesaid, to direct any Constable or Constables attending such courts to inflict said punishment, which direct such Constable or Constables were required to obey.

In 1810 it was ordered that Watchmen should be stationed nightly at the Potter's Field. This is a significant order. It may easily be inferred that the young doctor's of those days found the same difficulty as those of to-day in obtaining a sufficient supply of dissecting material. But now the salary question comes up again, and now at last something practical is done. On February 26, several petitions were received from citizens, asking an increase of pay for the Watchmen. The city fathers took almost a year to think it over; but on March 25, 1811, the Police Committee reported the draft of a memorial to the legislature, and a bill to be enacted, which were approved, and ordered to be engrossed and presented by the Mayor to the legislature. The following is a copy of the memorial:


The Memorial of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York respectfully sheweth:

That a perfect Police, is in the opinion of your memorialists, of extreme importance in every city, and particularly in one daily and rapidly increasing like the City of New York. In perfecting such a police, the activity of the inferior officers and agents of the police magistrates is every way important and competent. Rewards are consequently necessary to stimulate such activity. At present there are constables and marshal in the service of the city police, whose compensation arises from very trivial fees which are allowed them by law, and which are the same in all cases, whether such cases are important or unimportant. It is very apparent to your memorialists that in cases of difficulty and importance, the established fees of office can hold out very little inducement for increased exertion, and that, therefore, capital criminals may, through the want of competent remuneration to these inferior officers of justice, baffle pursuit and escape the penalties of the law.

Your memorialists are therefore anxious that some remedy be applied to this gross defect, and they beg to suggest the following:

Since the first establishment of a police office in the City of New York, large quantities of property of various kinds, and considerable value, seized under suspicion of being stolen have devolved to the office by remaining unclaimed by any owner, and from the proceeds of the sale of such property, the expenses of the office have been annually paid, and a large surplus left in the hands of the magistrates, unappropriated. The proceeds of this unclaimed property, with occasional assistance from the public revenue of the State, will forma sufficient fund more effectually to encourage the vigilance and activity of the several branches of a police, confessedly of great benefit to the whole State of New York.

Your Memorialists therefore pray that provision b made by law for the disposal of the property so remaining in the aid office unclaimed, at the expiration of every six months, and that the proceeds thereof may be paid into the Treasury, and an established salary, in addition to the existing fees, may be allowed out of the public Treasury to such Constables and Marshals as the Police Magistrates may select, on account of their vigilance and fidelity, to attend at the said office, and execute their commands."

This was a step in advance; yet, it will be seen, it leaves the poor Watchman unprovided for. It is not likely that the police of to-day would be content to rely on the leavings of the Property Clerk's office for their pay; neither are the owners of the stolen goods, as a rule, so accommodating as to leave their property to benefit the public finances.

The legislature (April 9, 1811,) passed an act embodying the main features contained in the memorial of the corporation, as aforesaid. This act provided for the appointment of one Special Justice, and directed that all Special Justices should be, ex-officio, Judges of the Court of General Sessions. It empowered the Mayor, from time to time, to select as many marshal and constables as he should deem necessary to perform police duty, who were to report daily at the police office and execute the orders of the Justices. For these services Constables were allowed extra compensation in the discretion of the Justices and approval of the Mayor. The Special Justices were also given control of the Watchmen, insofar as their orders related to the detection of criminals. The appointment of Marshal was limited to sixty. The ct also provided that two Aldermen should attend the court of General Sessions and act as Justices, and that another Special Justice should be appointed. The Mayor was empowered to select the Constables and Marshals, who were to attend the court as policemen. Unclaimed property was directed to be sold, the proceeds to be paid to policemen for extraordinary services.

The special Justices received from the Common council the use of the watch-room and adjoining room of the New City hall for the performance of their duties.

It was again re-enacted in this year that Watchmen were not eligible to accept the office of firemen, and new staves were ordered for the use of the Constables.

Constables, before taking office, were obliged to give a bond with two sureties, by which such constables agreed top pay to any person the amount he might become liable for on account of any execution he might collect. The amount of the bond is not stated, but the bond should be approved by the Supervisors, and place in the custody of the Town Clerk. Police Justices were required to account semi-annually (January and July) to the Mayor, as to what stolen goods remained unclaimed in the police office, and to advertise the same in one daily newspaper. Constables and Bailiffs were ordered to arrest all persons who disturbed religious worship on the Sabbath, or who, on the same day, exhibited any show, promoted or aided in horse-racing, or who sold any liquor within one mile of the place of meeting, under a penalty of twenty-five dollars. Suits against a Constable were to be brought within two yeas after his term of office, for failure to properly perform his duty.

The foundation stone of the City Hall was laid on September 26th, 1803, during the mayoralty of Edward Livingstone. It was finished in 1812, at an expense of half a million dollars.

The building is of a square form, two stories in height, besides a basement story. It has a wing at each end, projecting from the front, and in the centre the roof is elevated to form an attic story. The whole length of the building is two hundred and sixteen feet, the breadth one hundred and five feet, and the height fifty-one feet. Including the attic story, it is sixty-five feet in height. The front and both ends, above the basement story, are built of native while marble, from Stockbridge, Massachusetts; and the rest of the building is constructed of brown freestone. The roof is covered with copper, and there is balustrade of marble entirely around the top. Rising from the middle of the roof is a cupola, on which is placed a colossal figure of Justice, holding in her right hand which rests on her forehead, a balance; and in her left, a sword pointing to the ground. The first story, including the portico, is of the Ionic, the second of the Corinthian, the attic of the Fancy, and the cupola of the composite order. The first design was that the whole should be built of marble, but marble was high, the city fathers were economical, and it was desirable to make a saving. On that account, and it being maintained that the population would never, to any extent, settle above Chambers Street, and therefore, as the rear of the hall would not come into public view, it was concluded to build this portion of the edifice with red freestone. This accounts of the difference between the front and rear. What a commentary on the phenomenal growth of the city.

The committee to whom was referred the compensation to be allowed to the officers attending the police offices, on February 3, 1812, reported that they had examined the accounts of the officers, and were satisfied that these were accurate both as to the time given the public services, and the expenses incurred. The report goes on thus:

"With respect to the amount of compensation to be given to them, considering the difficulty and personal danger frequently attending a discharge of their duty, as well as the importance of it o the public, your committee respectfully recommend that the several Constables and Marshal assigned to attend the Police Office (in the watch-room in the New City Hall), be allowed the sum of $2 for every twelve hours they shall be employed in that duty on special occasions, and by direction of anyone of the Special Justices in the day time, and the additional sum of $1 for every twelve hours they shall be employed in the night time, and in that proportion for any longer or short time; and that the accounts be presented hereafter in the name of the High Constable, and certified to by the Special Justices."

On April 6, 1812, an ordinance of the Common Council increased the number of Captains and Assistant Captains, respectively, to eight. The latter were to receive, in addition to their pay as Watchmen, fifty cents for every night they were so employed. Twelve substitutes were appointed and added to each of the companies of the Watch, who were entitled to a like pay as the regular Watchmen, whenever so employed.

The city was divided into four police districts.

Each Captain was entitled to receive one dollar and eighty-seven and a half cents for every night's actual service, and each of the other Watchmen received eighty-seven and a half cents.

An ordinance was adopted on August 3, providing for the appointment of a Standing committee of Police, to consist of three members of the Common Council, and vested with all the usual powers for the promotion of police efficiency, the committee being authorized to act in concert with the magistrates of the city to that end.

Next comes a clause ordering "that a company not exceeding one hundred active citizens should be organized in each ward, under the direction of the Committee of Police, and magistrates, as an extraordinary City Watch, to be armed with watch Clubs, and to have an object placed in their hats when on duty, written 'Cut Watch.'" This body was to have a Captain and Assistant, and, on the alarm being given, it was to assemble at the City Hall to execute the behests of the Mayor and Magistrates. A third section of the same ordinance placed $500 at the disposal of the Magistrates, to be used as might appear best toward the suppression of crime.

The Grand Jury took a hand in police affairs, making a presentment to the effect that a Watchman should be stationed at each church, and should have ready access to the bell, so that he might be able to give an immediate alarm in case of fire. the Grand Jury also thought the Watchmen, in crying fire, should be directed to name the place where the flames were raging. This presentment was referred by the Common Council to the Watch committee.

The Captains of the Watch were charged with superintending the trimming and care of the lamps in their districts, "the people employed by the corporation having been guilty of neglect and impositions." A month later, however, the Lamp committee expressed disapproval of the Watchmen lighting the lamps, but were in favor of their extinguishing them at a certain hour. Incidents like these are eminently indicative of the state of the city during the period treated of. The reader may find unfailing food for reflection by comparing the electric fire alarm system and the electric lighting of to-day with the church bellringing and oil lamp trimming that prevailed in the life of his grandfather.

By the act of ninth of April, 1813, the city was divided into ten wards: the electors of each ward to chose one Alderman, one Assistant Alderman, two Assessors, one Collector, and two Constables. The Mayor, Recorder, and not less then five Aldermen, and five assistant Aldermen to be a quorum of the Common Council. The Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen had the power of Police Judges, empowered to act as conservators of the peace. Under this law, a police office was established and the Police Judges (otherwise called Special Justices), were authorized to exercise certain powers, which belonged to Aldermen when out of sessions.

Furthermore, it should be lawful for the Chancellor, every of the Judges of the Supreme Court, the Mayor, Recorder, and every of the Aldermen, whenever they should deem the occasion to require it, to be in the said office, "and then and there to do every act which they shall deem requisite to be done by them as conservators of the peace." This act provided also for the appointment of three Special Justices, "as often a it shall be deemed necessary," for preserving the peace in the City of New York, and likewise a clerk of the police office. The salary of each Special Justice was fixed by law at the rate of $750 per annum, together with certain fees named in the statute.

The Mayor of the city, from time to time, was authorized to select as many Constables and Marshals as he might deem requisite for police officers, whose duty it should be to attend at the police office and execute the orders and commands of the Justices. The proceeds of sales of unclaimed property were applied to compensate the said police officers for extraordinary services, and to promote the detection and apprehension of offenders. It was the duty of the Watchmen to obey such orders and directions as they should from time to time receive from the Special Justices relative to the detection and apprehension of offenders. It was the duty of the Justices, or one of them, to examine all persons apprehended and detained in custody by the Night-Watches, and to make such order thereon as the circumstances of each case and justice should require, and likewise to superintend and direct the discharge of the Watch every morning upon the conclusion of the service of the night. The act limited the number of Marshals to sixty.

One of the earliest statutes of the General Assembly in 1683 was for the relief of the poor. In 1699 a law was passed for the relief of the poor at their homes; and about 1714 the first alms house was built, on the present site of the City Hall. In 1793 a lottery of £10,000 was granted for a new alms house, and the large brick building on the Park near Chambers Street was erected. This building was destroyed by fire in 1854. In 1811, a tract on the East river, at the foot of Twenty-sixth Street, was bought; and the first stone was laid August 1, 1811. The main building at Bellevue Hospital was opened April 22, 1816, as a hospital, penitentiary, and alms house, at a cost of $421,109.

The buildings occupied by the alms house stood at Bellevue, on the banks of the East River. The principal building fronted the river. It was a plain stone structure, three stories high, with slated roof. The first stone of the alms house was laid August 1, 1811, and it was opened in the beginning of the year 1816. The inappropriateness of the location of the alms house at Chambers Street soon became manifest, and in 1810 the site at Bellevue, containing between six and seven acres, was purchased and buildings commenced, which was finished and occupied in 1812. The city authorities then agreed to devote the old buildings toward encouraging several enterprises of a public character then recently started, and accordingly appropriated its rooms for their occupancy, and adopted for it the name of New York Institution.

A committee of the Common Council which was appointed to consider the subject, reported on February 12, 1816, that "an entire new modification" of the Justices' Courts was desirable. This committee recommended that the city be divided into five districts, of which the Ninth Ward was specified as one. Four Justices were to be appointed by the Council of appointment--a body many of the functions of which are nor vested in the Governor of the State--for the first four districts; the Corporation was to appoint two for the Fifth District or Ninth Ward. All these Justices were to hold court at such times and places as the Corporation might direct, and they were to make a return of all their fees, paying the amount of them monthly to the Chamberlain. Fuel, candles and stationery were to be supplied by the city. It was further proposed to extend the jurisdiction of the Justices to cases in which $50 or under was involved, the jurisdiction being concurrent with that of the Mayor's court over $25, and the defendant having the option of removing the case to the latter tribunal on giving security. Another suggestion, which shows growth in liberality, forbids that any man who actually supported a family should b e imprisoned for a debt less then $25; and finally it was proposed that the Justices should lave power to grant new trials, and, except in the Ninth Ward, should be salaried officers, paid by the city. All these suggestions were approved by the Common Council, which instructed the Corporation Counsel to prepare a corresponding memorial and bill for presentation tot he legislature. This was done, and an act founded on the outline here given was adopted. In 1817 the salary of Police Justice was set at $750 per annum. The Clerks of the police courts about the same time made a successful effort to have themselves in common with Constables and marshal, exempted from militia duty.

The Humane society (1817), it is to be presumed, from their printed "directions to prevent the fatal effects of drinking cold water," had but slight sympathy with the principles of St. John. The remedy for which, as prescribed by this excellently humane society, was "spirits and water," or , in other words, "grog." "with the view of carrying into effect the foregoing directions," it is stated "the society have appointed six physicians, * * * * whose province it is to take charge of such persons as are contemplated in this provision, and on whom our citizens are requested to call when accidents of this nature may occur." Verily, that was a humane, not to say a philanthropic society.



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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