Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 4, Part 2

By Holice and Debbie


On February 12, 1837, an excited mob of four or five thousand persons assembled in the City Hall Park to be harangued by speakers, who were to inquire into the cause of the prevailing distress, the high price of flour, " and to devise a suitable remedy" for these evils. One of the speakers said: "Mr. Ely Hart has fifty-three thousand barrels of flour in his store; let us go and offer him eight dollars a barrel for it, and if he will not take it"--here the speaker stopped abruptly and significantly. The mob took the hint, and very soon Mr. Hart's store, in Washington Street, near Dey Street, was broken into, and his flour and grain thrown into the street. Other flour stores were only saved from like treatment by the interference of the Police. Forty of the mob were arrested; but only a few were convicted.

The following places were designated as watch-houses on May 30 of the following year:

"The upper part of Franklin market in the First Ward, for the First District.
"The building occupied as a watch-house in Eldridge Street for the Second District.
"The building occupied as a watch-house at the corner of Wooster and Prince
Streets for the Third District.
"The upper part of Jefferson Market for the Fourth District.
"The upper part of Union Market for the Fifth District.
"The northeast corner of the basement story of the Halls of Justice, or such part
thereof as might be assigned by the special joint committee on buildings,
for the Sixth District.

A committee on Police, etc., of both Boards of Aldermen, to whom was referred a resolution relative to the re-organization of the Police Department, presented their report, and the draft of a law thereon, on February 12,1838, both being laid on the table. The committee directed their principal attention tot he organization of the Watch. "The welfare of the city is deeply interested in its efficiency, while the taxpayer is aware that the expenditures in this department amounted last year to about $262,000." The committee expressed their belief that this branch of the Police required that a thorough system of subordination, and close and active inspection,, should be introduced into its administration, if the protection of property and the preservation of the public peace were to be promptly and effectually secured. The adoption of the new draft of the law, accompanying the report, was recommended, which, when carried out, it was claimed, would introduce regulation and order, "where before very little of those characteristics existed;" dismissed Watchmen would no longer be able, after having neglected their duty, to find employment in another district; and the rules by which Captains of the Watch discharged their duties, would not be as diverse as the respective watch-houses the occupied. The report continues: "The Roundsmen now go out to visit the posts two at a time; this service can as well be performed by a single Watchmen, and inducement to gossip and idleness is removed."

The change proposed buy the committee had, it was alleged, the additional merit of economy, by effecting a saving of twenty thousand dollars annually to the city, while the committee were confident that the Watch department would be better organized, and more effective than the system it was designed to supplant.

The charter had given full power to the Mayor to appoint any number of Marshals. By act of the legislature, April 8, 1813, this power was limited to the number of sixty, and subsequently to one hundred. The committee claimed that the necessity constantly arising from the increase of population and business demonstrated the propriety of the Common Council possessing the power to fix on the number of those officers, so as to be appointed by the mayor from time to time. It seemed equally just, three committee were of opinion, that the Mayor should have power to appoint Special Constables, competent to arrest offenders and preserve the public peace. It was also deemed necessary o add to the number of Special Justices for preserving the peace. The Common council, it was asserted, should have been vested with this power. The Board, in view of these facts, was advised to take the necessary steps to procure the passage of an act by the legislature securing the adoption of the above suggestions.

The draft of the bill accompanying the report, was, on May 7, 1838, approved by the Common Council and Mayor.

The leading provisions of this ordinance are as follows:

There were appointed a Superintendent of the Watch, twelve Captains, twenty-four Assistant Captains, one hundred and thirty-two Sergeants, and seven hundred and eighty-four Watchmen. This force was distributed among the four Watch districts.

It was the duty of the Superintendent to constantly inspect the Watch. He had entire command of the whole force, under the direction and order of the Mayor. Next to him in point of rank in the order named were the Captains, Assistant Captains, and Sergeants. Captains, in their respective districts, attended on alternate night, and took command of the Watch; Sergeants, under the order of their respective Captains, had charge of the inspection of the Watchmen within the beat assigned to them; they went out with the Watchmen and placed them on their posts. Sergeants visited Watchmen, and reported any neglect of duty. Their salaries were as follows: Superintendent, $1,000; Captains, $2.50 per night; Assistant Captains, $2.00; Sergeants, $1.50; and Watchmen, $1,25 per night.

In 1840 the Common Council made provision looking to the appointment of Twelve Captains, twenty-four Assistant Captains, and one hundred and twenty-eight Roundsmen, and seven hundred and eighty-four Watchmen. These Watchmen were attached to the several districts as follows:

First District

140 men, of whom 20 were Roundsmen

Second District

148 men of whom 16 were Roundsmen

Third District

164 men of whom 24 were Roundsmen

Fourth District

140 men of whom 20 were Roundsmen

Fifth District

136 men of whom 20 were Roundsmen

Sixth District

188 men of whom 28 were Roundsmen

The Watch District then included all that portion of the city lying south of the line described as follows, commencing at the East River: One hundred feet north of Twenty-eighth Street, running thence westerly and parallel to Twenty-eighth Street, to a point one hundred feet west of the Fourth Avenue, thence southerly, and parallel to the Fourth Avenue to a point one hundred feet north of Twenty-sixth Street, and thence westerly and parallel to Twenty-sixth Street, to the Hudson River.

An act to incorporate the Watchmen's Mutual Benefit Association of the City of New York was passed April 13, 1840. The objects of this association were charitable, "and to afford relief to its members in cases of sickness and infirmity,"--a society, it appears, similar in its organization and objects to the present Police Mutual Aid Association.

In all these years physicians called in by the Police were paid only for services rendered, none being officially appointed.

The House of Detention in Harlem was, on May 6, 1841, designated as an additional Police office, to be kept open from nine o'clock in the morning until sunset.

The Justices of the Police Courts were stationed as follows:

Lower Police office (Halls of Justice), George W. Matsell, Henry W. Merritt, Ephraim Stevens and Miln Parker.

Upper Police office (Bowery and third Street), James Palmer, Robert Taylor.

Twenty-three officers (including High constable Hays) were attached to the former Police office, and seven police officers to the latter.

The Justices of the Assistant Justice's Court were:

Ambrose Kirtland, First District--First, Second and Third Wards' Nicholas C. Everett; Second District--Fourth and sixth Wards; William Wiley, third District--Fifth,. Eighth and Fourteenth Wards; Thomas S. Brady, Fourth District--Seventh and Tenth Wards; William H. Bell, Fifth District--Ninth, Eleventh, and Fifteenth Wards; James B. Theys and Isaac Daughty, Twelfth Ward.

The Watch Department was divided into six districts, as follows: First District, Franklin Market, Old Slip; Second District, Essex Market, Essex and Grand Streets; Third District, Prince and Wooster Streets; Fourth District, Jefferson Market, Greenwich Lane; Fifth District, Union Market; Sixth District, Halls of Justice, Centre and Franklin Streets.

On the tenth of May, 1843, the pay of the City Watch was increased to ten shillings per night, during the whole year. Mayor Morris, on November 21, vetoed this resolution, giving the following as his reasons for so doing:

"On the twenty-first of March, 1842, the legislature authorized that the sum of two hundred and thirty-four thousand dollars be raised by tax, for defraying the expenses of the Watch Department. This amount was arrived at by estimating the compensation of Watchmen at ten shillings per night. In September of the same year, the Common Council reduced the pay of the Watchmen to one dollar per night. In December following, The common council established the pay of the Watch at one dollar and twenty-five cents per night, from the first of November to first of May in each year; and at one dollar per night from the first of May until the first of November; and, in addition, ordered that they should be paid twenty-five cents per night from first of November, so as to bring them within the rate established by the ordinance, viz.: one dollar and twenty-five cents from November 1 to May 1, and one dollar from May 1 to November 1. On the seventeenth of April, 1843, the legislature authorized the raising by tax in the Watch District of the sum of two hundred and twelve thousand dollars, for the support of the Watch Department. This sum was arrived at by estimating the compensation to the Watch at one dollar per head per night, from May 1 to November 1; and one dollar and twenty-five cents per night, from November 1 to May 1. This sum was less by twenty-two thousand dollars than the amount raised or the support of the Watch Department for the preceding year, and was scarcely sufficient to pay the expenses of the Watch Department for the year, at the rate authorized by the existing ordinance."

In May following it was thought necessary to station Watchmen in the cupolas of the Halls of Justice, City hall, Reservoir, Centre, Essex, and Jefferson Markets, for the purpose of raising an alarm in case of fire, and it was ordered that the necessary number of me should be appointed, the pay being at the rate of one dollar and seventy-five cents per day. Both Boards of Aldermen in the same year became jealous of the authority possessed by the Mayor over the Police, and an ordinance revoking his powers and placing them under the control of the standing committees of each Board of Police, Watch and prisons, was passed. The Mayor objected to the change, refusing to sign the bill. It was passed, however, over his veto. The Comptroller was also directed to pay all bills presented for the extra services of Watchmen when they were stamped as approved by the Committees of both boards of Police, Watch and Prisons. The Aldermen became generous by voting money to supply the station houses with clocks.

There had been so much noise, confusion and quarreling among hackmen in the year 1843 at the steamboat landings that another duty was imposed upon the Police. By an ordinance passed march 27, the "Day Police officers" of the First, Second, and Third Wards, carrying their staves of office, were directed to repair to the principal steamboat landings in their respective Wards on the arrival of steamboats, to preserve the peace and assist the hack inspector in protecting travelers from the extortionate demand of the hackmen. IN May of the same year both Boards, by resolution, reinvested in the Mayor the authority he had had over the Police, and which they had taken away from him the previous year.

When the British took possession of the city, on September 15, 1776, it is safe to conclude that Sir William Howe had at least five thousand prisoners to provide for, to contain whom, the ordinary places of confinement were insufficient. Accordingly the Brick Church, the Middle Dutch, the North Dutch, and the French Church, were appropriated to their use. Beside these, Columbia college, the sugar House, the New Jail, the New Bridewell, and the Old City Hall, were filled to their utmost capacity. The Old Sugar House was, par excellence, known as "the prison house of the Revolution."

The Middle Dutch Church was dedicated I n1732 as a house of Christian worship. Until the close of the century its services were carried on in the "Holland language," after that it was altered to the English language.

The Old sugar House (founded in 1689, and occupied as a sugar refining factory, until the time of the Revolution) and the Middle Dutch Church, as seen in the accompanying illustration, stood in Liberty Street, the latter building being subsequently turned into the old General Post-office. The view was taken in 1830.

The Old Brewery, at the Five Points, has long been removed to make room for a missionary station. Its purlieus were those of wretchedness and crime; they have fitly been described as "an exhibition of poverty without a parallel--a scene of degradation too appalling to be believed, and too shocking to b disclosed; where you find crime without punishment, disgrace without shame, sin without compunction, and death without hope."

On May 15, 1843, Aldermen Tillou, Woodhull and Emmans were appointed a special committee in relation to the reorganization of the Police Department. this committee was instructed to ascertain and report the condition of the Police of the city; wherein the system was sufficient, effective or deficient; also, whether the laws of the State relative to crime, and to punishment, and to the police of the city, were or were not, sufficient in their scope and provisions for the due protection and good order of society and if not, wherein they were deficient; also, whether the administration of the duties of the Magistrates or officers of Police, or of the criminal Judiciary in the city was, or was not efficient, and if not, the causes thereof. That they also ascertain and report what measures, if any, were proper or necessary to be adopted on the subject above mentioned, and to include in their report such statement and information, and such suggestions and recommendations, as they should deem judicious.

At a meeting of the Board of Aldermen held July 3, 1843, it was resolved that so much of the message as related to the organization of Police be referred to the special committee of the board of which Alderman Tillou was the chairman. This committee, in their report, observed that the subject of Municipal Police, treated of in the message, involved the two principal departments of Criminal Police and health Police; the object of the former being to prevent, detect, arrest and punish crimes; that of the latter to preserve the public health. The outline of Criminal Police, as proposed, the report said, had for its object the diminution of a very large number of officers and persons employed in the various duties which the department--as proposed to be organized--should perform. By uniting the Fire, Watch, and Constabulary force, it would, the report said, render available for other public duties, a large body of citizens employed in the services of these several departments. The report, taking its facts from the message, placed the value of the taxable property in the city limits at $227,997,090.58, and claimed that the aggregate expense of the proposed system would not equal one-quarter per cent.

"And when it is considered," the report mentions, "that the Police has for its purpose not only the protection of property, but of persons, from aggression; that besides the permanent population of the city now estimated to be about 350,000 persons thus protected, there are always, as is supposed, a floating population of about 50,000 strangers; and that at all times must be included in its limits. . . . .a large number of persons . . . . . . .who at no time possess home or house, and the usual proportions of whom are the wicked and debased; the force, strength and expense of the proposed system will not be regarded a too great.

The evils and misfortunes, the report continues, under which the city suffered, were mainly to be attributed to the inefficiency of the police system; of the want of independence and competency of many of the most important officers, owing to political influence--and not real merit--being the great recommendation to the appointments, to the consequent paralysis of the department.

The Mayor, by the charter and laws, was the head of the Police Department. His powers included the appointment of the Marshal and Watchmen. Two Constables from each Ward, making altogether, thirty-four Constables were elected annually. They were peace officers; bound to serve criminal process, assist in keeping the peace, attend the courts and assist in carrying out the sentence of law when required by the Sheriff, or the Police, or other Magistrates. Their compensation was similar to that of the Marshals.

There were one hundred Marshals (including those attached to the Police offices). Besides discharging the duties imposed upon the constables, the Marshal were required to co-operate with the constables at all times in keeping the peace, and attend on the various courts subject tot he Sheriff.

Attached to the lower Police office for duty, were twenty-eight marshals, and to the upper Police office twelve Marshal, who were called upon by regular turns, and in succession, to attend to the services of the office.

The city was divided into six district, in each of which there was a watch-house, two Captains and four assistant Captains being assigned to each watch-house.

The whole force employed in the Watch Department was twelve Captains at two dollars and twenty-five cents per night; twenty-four assistant Captains at one dollar and seventy-five cents per night; nine hundred and seventy-six Watchmen at one dollar per night in summer, and one dollar and twenty-five cents in winter.

Of this force one-half was on duty every night, each half alternately.

The Watch in summer was set at nine o'clock and in winter at eight o'clock, and varied between those two hours according to the duration of daylight, and was discharged at the break of day. They were classified as Postmen, Roundsmen, and Doormen; the Roundsmen being those designated to go round each district assigned to each to see that each Postman was on his post; the Postmen being the men assigned to do post duty; the Doormen being those posted at the doors of the watch-houses. The posts varied in size, the smallest including six and the largest twenty-seven blocks,. Subsequently the Watch was set at seven o'clock in the evening, the men remaining on duty until thirty minutes before sunrise in the morning.

Sixteen Day Police officers nominated by the Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen of each Ward were appointed by the Mayor, "to keep order at all times in their respective Wards." Two were assigned respectively to the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Wards, and one each to the others.

Sunday officers were also appointed by the Mayor on the recommendation of the Aldermen and Assistants to each Ward. There were one hundred and eight Sunday officers, each receiving one dollar and fifty cents for the day's services,

There were thirteen Dock masters, whose duty it was to direct the removal and disposition of vessels in their respective Wards, each being paid a salary of four hundred dollars per annum. In all the Wards, with few exceptions, the Dock masters and Health Wardens were united in one person.

The number of Marshals attached to the Police office at the Halls of Justice was thirty. They received no salary for their services, their fees being regulated by an act of the legislature passed in 1833; ad for extra services, by an ordinance of the Common Council, they were paid one shilling per hour for every hour they were employed under the direction of a Magistrate in the day time, and eighteen pence per hour for the same services at night. They were compelled to render an account of such services under oath. There was no particular system of doing duty at the office, with the exception that a roll of the officers was kept, and warrants and other business given to the officers in their turn. The usual hours for business in the Police office were from nine in the morning until the Watch was set at night; but the office was opened before daylight every morning, at which time the Magistrate, Clerk and two officers were in attendance to receive and dispose of the prisoners arrested during the night at the three lower watch-houses. The Magistrates, Clerks and officers, were not regularly on duty all night, but could be summoned whenever their services were required.



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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