Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 6, Part I

By Holice and Debbie

 

CHAPTER VI
1853-1857
APPOINTMENT OF A BOARD OF POLICE COMMISSIONERS

Ex-Superintendent Walling -- His Long and Honorable Connection with the Department -- Charter of 1853 -- Re-Organizing the Police Force -- Tenure of Office to Remain during Good Behavior -- The Recorder- City Judge and Mayor Appointed as a Commission -- A Reserve Corps Established -- An Improvement in the Efficiency of the Force -- Introduction of a Police Uniform -- Hostility thereto -- The "Star" Police -- Efforts made to Induce the Men to Wear the Uniform -- Judgment Speedily Rendered in Trial Cases -- Beneficial Effects -- Appointment of a Drill Sergeant -- Salaries Increased -- Tables of Arrests -- Sanitary Matters.

George Washington Walling, ex-Superintendent of our New York Police, was born in Keyport, Monmouth County, n. J., a small village on Raritan Bay, about twenty-four miles from New York city, on the first of May, 1823. He attended school in his native town for a short time, but was obliged, like large number of the Police Captains, to work very hard for his living while he was yet quite a boy. He was first employed on a farm, and then on the boats which plied between Keyport and New York. He joined the force on the twenty-second of December, 1847, and was assigned to the Third Precinct. Patrolman Walling soon had an opportunity of showing the kind of material he was made of. A party of boisterous young men were one night coming down Broadway, making night hideous with their shouting and blasphemy. They were partially intoxicated. Among their number was William Harrington, who was considered to be one of the toughest men in New York. "Gentlemen," said Patrolman Walling, "you must stop that noise; people are in bed and must not be disturbed." "Why, there are six of us here; how are you going to make us be quiet," was the answer of one of the young bloods. "Well, now, see here," said Walling, "I am here to do my duty, and I shall try and arrest some of you at least if you do not go on your way quietly." Harrington was so taken aback by the officer's coolness and determination that he separated himself from his gang and said, "By G--, I will help you." the young men, seeing that Walling was not to be trifled with, proceeded quietly on their way.

On the thirtieth of September, 1853, he was appointed Captain and assigned to the eighteenth Ward. He retained his position of Captain when the Metropolitan Police was established. Fernando Wood, who at this time was Mayor, refused to recognize the change from the Municipal to the Metropolitan Police, and a warrant issued for his arrest. A detachment of the force was sent down to the City Hall to serve the warrant, but when the Police arrived they found the place in the hands of Mayor Wood's partisans. A struggle followed and some hard knocks were exchanged, but finally Wood's men beat back the Police and remained masters of the situation. Meantime the warrant had not been served on Mayor Wood. In his emergency the commissioners asked Capt., Walling if he would serve the warrant on the Mayor. "Here it is." "Well, then, I will serve it." And Captain Walling walked quietly down to the City hall alone and unassisted, and served the warrant on Mayor Wood.

During the quarantine riots Captain Walling was sent down to Staten island with one hundred men, where he discharged his duties in such an admirable manner that he was accorded official praise.

On his return to the city, he was placed in charge of the Fourth Precinct, where there was a good deal of crime. His administration of this district had a salutary effect on the lawbreakers. He was subsequently transferred to the Sixth precinct, and, after serving there some time, he was placed in charge of the Detective force at headquarters , where his services were found very valuable. He was appointed Inspector on the twenty-first of November, 1866. Eight years after this, Mr. Walling attained the highest position on the force; he was made superintendent of the Metropolitan Police--a position which his ability, integrity and strict attention to duty well entitle him to hold.

One episode in particular in the official career of Superintendent Walling deserves more than passing mention, as it served to bring him into notoriety as a bright, brace, astute office, and was, perhaps, the beginning of his success.

In 1848 he was detailed for duty at the Tombs, along with an officer named Shadbolt. About this time occurred the celebrated case known as "The button Case." A number of burglaries had been committed for several weeks, on Saturday nights, in Maiden Lane and John Streets. John Reed, a detective, was detailed to investigate these burglaries, and ,in the course of his labors, he discovered a cloth button on the floor of one of the stores that had been entered by burglars. Detective Reed, in the absence of any other clew, clutched at the button as eagerly as a drowning man would at a straw. The button was of a peculiar pattern, and was only used on certain kind of coats of not very fashionable make. The detective argued, with that refinement of reason and discernment rarely to be found except in an experienced detective, that the button in question was of great importance to him in establishing the identity of the burglars, if they were ever to be identified at all. In fact, he thought the button was a sort of connecting link. Having settled the matter in his mind that the mysterious button had been town from the coat, or dropped from the pocket, of one of the burglars, he next satisfied himself that none of the men employed about the store wore clothes with buttons to march the specimen in his possession; so that if any value was to be attached to his theory, the burglars were to b e sought for on the outside of the establishment--a point of no mean importance to be settled in a case so critical and so mysterious. He carried the button to Chief Matsell, who thought sufficiently well of Mr. Shadbolt's ingenious theory, to send for all the detailed men, to whom he exhibited the button, telling them to be on the alert for a man wearing a coat with that kind of button. One night thereafter, Detective Shadbolt and his side partner, Detective Walling, in the discharge of their duty, attended the old Chatham Street Theatre. Walling went up the stairs and Shadbolt remained below. Shadbolt soon after joined Walling and said: "there are three young fellows coming up, and one of them has buttons on his coat like the on in our possession." When the three young men passed up-stairs they seated themselves in the gallery, and our friend Walling took a vacant seat close by them, and, while pretending to scan a programmme, he was paying attention tot he kind of buttons they had on their coats. This furtive scrutiny satisfied him that one of the young men had just such buttons on his coat, and, going down-stairs, he so informed Shadbolt, who was waiting at the entrance. By agreement, Shadbolt was to go to the old Bowery Theatre and stay there until he heard from Walling. Meantime, when the performance was over, Walling followed the three young men to Chatham and Duane Streets, where they entered a lodging house. Satisfied that he had followed them to their lodging, he called a citizen whom he knew and asked him to find Shadbolt in front of the old Bowery theater, and to send him (Shadbolt) to Walling without delay. The messenger did as he was instructed, and, when Shadbolt arrived the two concluded to go to John Reed's house, on tenth Street, and tell him just what they knew and what further they proposed doing. This done, they arranged to meet Reed and John Wade (another detective) at Chief Matsell's office at daybreak, whither they would bring the three young men, who they concluded to arrest.

When Shadbolt and Walling, after making know their business to the proprietor of the place, passed up-stairs, they knocked on the door of the room occupied by the three young man, who were in one bed. One of the three got up and opened the door. When he looked out he aid to his companions, "The cops are here." The prisoners were taken to Chief Matsell's office. When searched, it was found that each wore a new pair of suspenders, of precisely the same pattern as had been stolen from one of the Maiden Lane houses. They at first denied their guilt, but soon confessed all. The stolen goods, the proceeds of eleven burglaries, were found in a receiver's house in Centre Street. The three young men were convicted, and sent to state prison each for a term of three years.

The button picked up by Detective Reed in the Maiden lane store was thus the means of tracking the culprits. While getting away with their booty, one of the burglars had his identical button torn off his coat.

Shortly afterwards, Detective Walling, in recognition of his services, was detailed to Chief Matsell's office in the City Hall.

Patrolman Walling was on duty in Broadway the night that Tom Hyer gave Yankee Sullivan a terrible beating in a basement, at the corner of Park Place. Hyer--after the row--had a pistol in his hand, and was in the act of putting a cap on it.

"Put that pistol up," said Patrolman Walling.

"Who the h--- are you?: he answered. "I am not going to get killed."

"You can come along with me," said Walling.

Both left the saloon by a rear door, and walked together to Broadway, when Hyer crossed the Park and entered No. 25 Park Row. This led to the fight between Hyer and Sullivan in 1849.

On Monday, the first day of the draft riots, Captain Walling was on duty in Third Avenue. While there he learned that the people were opposed to the draft, and that the arsenal had been burned. He went to the station house at Thirty-fifth Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and sent out a general alarm to hold men in readiness for any emergency. Soon afterwards he received an order to send a force of men to Thirty-fifth Street and Seventh Avenue to take charge of the arsenal. He and his command staid there until some soldiers came up and relieved then, when they returned to the station house. In the afternoon he received an order to report to headquarters. He and his men came down in stages. The mob was then burning buildings where the drafting was going on, at Twenty-ninth Street and Broadway. Captain Walling and his men proceeded immediately to the City Hall. There had been an attack made on the Tribune Building, and they were sent down to relieve the force of Police there detailed, and protect the newspaper offices generally.

The next morning they were sent to the Twentieth and Twenty-seventh Districts to hunt for rioters who were said to be destroying property. When they arrived there a man told Captain Walling that the rioters had gone to attack the Sixth Avenue car stables, but when the Police got there, nobody was to be seen. It was then learned hat the mob was attacking houses on Fifth Avenue, and thither Captain Walling went. His search for rioters was at last rewarded. He found a mob of probably two thousand persons. He had only eighty men. He ordered them to charge with drawn clubs, and, as a matter of course, they had enough to do to clear the street. Orders wee given to take no prisoners. Those of the mob in front went down before the policemen's clubs, and Captain Walling yelled out at the top of his voice, "Kill every man that has got a club," and every man that had one dropped it as quickly as he could. The crowd was dispersed in short order and driven to Forty-sixth Street.

The same afternoon, while Captain Walling was standing at the corner of Thirty-fifth Street and Eighth Avenue, he saw a big fellow in a crowd breaking in a door with a cart-rung. Captain Walling made his way through the mob, and with a scientific twirl of his locust, he laid the brawny ruffian with the cart-rung prostate in the gutter, while those who were aiding and abetting him waited not to be clubbed, but fled. As it proved, a wielder of the cart-rung was permanently knocked out. A doctor was sent for, but as soon as he look at the man he said "That man wants no doctor; he wants an undertaker."

After that, Captain Walling and his men went down to the colored church on Twenty-seventh Street, which was threatened by the rioters, and dispersed the crowd.

On Wednesday he remained at the station house. His was the only station house that any communication with headquarters. The other telegraph wires were destroyed by the rioters.

During the Orange riots Superintendent Walling was put in command of the force on eighth Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street, where they had several fights with the mob, the latter being driven back every time. The Ninth Regiment fired and killed several persons.

He received the following letter from Chief Matsell:

New York, August 13, 1850

GEORGE W. WALLING

Dear Sir:

I take this opportunity to express to you the gratification I experienced on witnessing your noble conduct on the fifth of August inst., on the occasion of the burning of the larger part of the five story building occupied by W. & D. White, at No. 40 Spruce Street, when you toiled with your own hands, and imperiled your own life, to extricate a fellow being from a mass of rubbish in which he was buried.

Your conduct was above all praise, and not only reflects honor upon yourself as a man and an officer, but is highly creditable to the Department to which you belong.

Accompanying this note you will receive a baton, beautifully ornamented with silver, which I beg you to accept as a token of my respect and esteem, and my appreciation of your conduct on the occasion of the fire. Although the present is not intrinsically valuable, yet it will serve as a memento of the noble act that called for the praise of all who witnessed it.

With sentiments of esteem and respect,

Yours, etc.,

GEORGE W. MATSELL,
Chief of Police

Not only is the Superintendent of Police the chief executive of the force; not only is he the mouthpiece through whom, legitimately, all the orders of the Board must come; not only is he charged with the supreme government of the force, subject only to the written orders from the Board of Police, but he is, in addition, charged with a vast variety of other duties, which render the place one of the most onerous.

The select committee appointed by the Assembly in 1875 to investigate the cause and increase of crime in the city, finding fault with every other Police official in high command, hears this appreciative testimony to the fidelity and worth of Superintendent Walling.

"the present Superintendent is an old officer of nearly thirty yeas' standing on the force, or unblemished reputation, and of unquestioned Police experience."

While in command of the Eighteenth Ward Station House, on the thirteenth of October, 1853, he was presented with a badge, of which the accompanying cut is an exact fac simile, bearing the following inscription on the reverse side;

GEORGE W. WALLING,
Eighteenth Patrol District

Presented to George W. Walling, on his promotion to the office of Captain of the eighteenth Ward Patrol District, by the officers of the office of the Chief of Police, and other friends, as a token of respect and esteem.

The law retiring "any member of the Police force who shall have reached the age of sixty years, and placing him on the roll of the Police Pension fund" * * * * took effect May 28, 1885. (Chapter 364, Sec.. 307.) This led to the resignation of the veteran Superintendent on June 9, following. The Board of Police Commissioners, in accepting his resignation, unanimously approved of the following statement:

"The Board of Police cheerfully embrace this opportunity of bearing testimony to their high appreciation of the many years of valuable service rendered to the public by an honest, worthy and capable officer, appointed a patrolman December 22, 1847, promoted in each instance through the several grades of Captain, Inspector, and Superintendent, for specially marked ability, untiring devotion to duty, and rare fidelity to trust…… * * * * * The bright character and faithful services constituting the extraordinary record of Superintendent Walling is presented to the force as an example ever worthy of emulation."

Some of the most important changes by the charter of 1853 consisted in abolishing the Board of Assistant Aldermen and substituting instead thereof a Board of Councilmen, consisting of sixty members, one to be elected from each of the sixty districts of contiguous territory; and the appointment of the Mayor, Recorder, and City Judge as a Board of Commissioners, by whom the officers of the Police and Policemen were thereafter to be appointed.

The Police Department was made to consist of the following named officers; Chief of Police, Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Policemen, and Doormen. It was the duty of this force to watch, and guard the city day and night, and protect all general and primary elections.

The title of Assistant Captains was changed to Lieutenants, the former incumbents assuming the newly-created rank until the expiration of the terms for which they were appointed such Assistant Captains.

Members of the Police appointed after the passage of this Act held office during good behavior, and could be removed only for cause.

The chief and Captains were empowered to suspend Sergeants, Policemen, and Doormen, for cause, in manner prescribed by Act of 1846.

The qualifications and method of appointment were as follows: The law required that a Policeman should be a citizen, a resident of the Ward; should read and write; and understand the fir four rules of arithmetic; and bear a good character for honesty, morality, and sobriety. Previous to appointment he was required to present to the Mayor a certificate signed by twenty-five reputable citizens, two-thirds of whom should be residents of his own Ward, to the effect that they had known him for five years, and that his character came up the required official standard. He was likewise obliged to present to the Mayor a surgeon's certificate that he was of sound body and robust constitution.

One of the important reforms inaugurated, and b y no means the lest important, was the adoption of a uniform, which it was rightly believed would secure greater attention to duty, and more zealous watchfulness on the part of all. A reserve corps had also been established, into which only those were admitted who had earned the privilege which membership in this corps conferred, by strict attention to duty, and by furnishing proof of fitness for the post. this was a virtual promotion, and was calculated to stimulate a laudable ambition among the men, and to encourage them to a more faithful and zealous performance of their duty. The operations of the law re-organizing the department tended to place it in such a condition as to justify the expectations formed of it by the community; and the Commissioners appointed under the Act, had, it was conceded, faithfully endeavored to carryout all the provisions of the law; and the evidence of their success was to be found in the superior character of the men appointed, and the general condition and efficiency of the force.

The effective force on the first day of July, 1853, was: Captains, twenty; Lieutenants, forty; Sergeants, seventy-nine; Policemen, eight hundred and sixty-four, Total, 1003.

The condition and efficiency of the Police Department, it was acknowledged, had materially improved since the foregoing Act of the legislature went into operation. Among the important changes thereby brought about were the tenure of office, which was limited only to the good behavior of the incumbent. The power of appointment was vested in a commission, consisting of the Recorder, City Judge and Mayor, who had the sole power to try and punish parties violating the rules of the department, and who, in conjunction with the Chief of Police, were authorized to prescribe rules for the government of the force.

Mayor Harper, as has been pointed out, in 1844 began his reformatory measures by trying the experiment of uniforming a corps of about two hundred Policeman. The men did not take kindly to the uniform, because chiefly, the idea was borrowed from England. So averse was the public to this innovation in Police Dress, that at the burning of the Old Bowery theatre almost a riot occurred, the population threatening to mob the Police, whom they designated as liveried lackeys. This and similar experiences served to make the uniformed Police still more unpopular, and in the succeeding year, when Havemeyer was Mayor, the uniform was abolished, and the force that wore it legislated out of office. The only insignia of office worn by the Police after that was a star-shaped copper shield, from which they received the name of "cops." The force was known as the "Star" Police from the shape of the shield. But the question of uniforming the Police continued to be agitated. Among the most strenuous advocates of the measure was James W. Gerard, father of the late Senator Gerard. He carried his zeal in this matter so far that he went to London with, it is said, the sole object of studying the Police system, for the purpose of introducing it in his native city. Upon his return home he brought with him a uniform, such as was then worn by the London Police, and made to fit himself. This suit he wore at a fancy dress ball in this city, where it attracted a good deal of favorable attention.

The next point scored by the advocates of a uniform was during the fair at the Crystal Palace. The squad of men that were there detailed for duty was placed under the command of Captain Leonard, and the veteran Bob Bowyer. They were put in uniform, and were kept under strict discipline, they having for Drill Master, Officer (afterwards Inspector) Jamison, who had served through the Mexican War and seen active service in the war of the Rebellion. The men's trim and soldierly appearance made a very favorable impression, and added to their official importance and self-respect. That it would produce the same beneficial results if worn by the regular Police was an inevitable conclusion. But experience and logic were alike thrown away on the men, and they universally condemned the uniform, and regarded as their mortal enemies all who counseled the wearing of it. the men carried their opposition so far as to hold an indignation meeting in front of Chief Matsell's windows, he being one of the leading champions of the measure.

The next attempt to introduce a uniform, provoked at first a bitter opposition. The men urged that it conflicted with their notions of independence and self-respect. The Commissioners (Westervelt, Tillou, and Beebe), as well as Chief Matsell, left no efforts untried to break down this prejudice, and after hard work, they at last succeeded. It was interesting to note how rapid was the change in public opinion just as soon as the men appeared on post clad in the new official dress which distinguished them from civilians. How this was brought about may best be told in the words of one who personally knew where of he spoke.

"Chief Matsell," said the late Inspector Thorne, "had notified the men that they should procure uniforms to be worn while on duty. The men refused to do so, because, they said, it would give them the appearance of footmen. It was claimed also (notably by the late District Attorney, John McKeon, who was counsel for the force), that the law did not justify the Commissioners in ordering them to wear uniforms, and that they could not be compelled to do so. the men held several meetings in Military Hall, on the Bowery, where they passed resolutions that they would not wear the uniform. The Commissioners and Chief of Police were determined that they should, and matters were coming to a crisis. The men had been appointed for a certain term, which was about expiring, and the new law made the term of office during good behavior. These men were seeking for re-appointment under the life tenure, and id not know what to do. I took it upon myself," continued Inspector Thorne, "as a committee of one, to wait upon Commissioner Beebe, who was a personal friend of mien, to ascertain, if possible, if there could be any means of dispensing with the wearing of the uniform, which we all unanimously declared to be a badge of servitude. Commissioner Beebe entered into an argument with me on the subject, in which he went onto show that the wearing of a uniform would be creditable to the force, as the men--on turning out on duty--wore the poorest clothes they had, and were anything but reputable in appearance as a Police force. They had nothing to show but their star shield. The judge went on to a kindly way to express to me what the uniform consisted of, and under his advice, I had a uniform suit made, in which I appeared at the next meeting in Military hall, and received many compliments on having such a nice new suit of clothes, they not for a moment supposing it to be the uniform. After the meeting had progressed some time, and the different speakers had ventilated their ideas for the benefit of the while, all using strong language in opposition to the uniform scheme, and the audience being of the same mind to a man, I asked permission to say a few words relative to the resolutions passed in regard to not wearing the uniform. Receiving permission, I explained to the meeting that I had had an interview with Commissioner Beebe; that his feelings were of a kindly nature towards the men, and that he did not wish them to stand in their own light, as at that time the majority of them had to be appointed under the new Act, and that if it came to a test if would only be a matter of a little time when every man who refused to wear the uniform would be rejected. Those who had been recently appointed were under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, and would have to come under the rules and discipline like the others. I then argued with them that the uniform was not so objectionable. I also called their attention to the suit of clothes I then had on--a coat being all the uniform then required by the Commissioners; and telling them that that was the uniform that the commissioners had adopted, and which the men were asked to wear. The men seemed to be incredulous, and one or two ventured to say: "Well, if that be hat they call the uniform, it is a first-class thing. No one can object to that." Others chimed in; and then I was examined more critically, and finding them in a yielding mood, I asked them to rescind the resolution not to use the uniform, so as to relieve the men from that pledge. The men being favorably impressed, rescinded the resolution with the exception of three votes, and two of these afterwards fell into line. There were about three hundred men present at the meeting. The only exception was Officer James Burnham of the Fifth Precinct, who stood aloof, and entered suit against the city for salary for the whole term of office, for four years, which suit he kept up till the day of his death; but he never received a penny. The uniform was immediately adopted by the whole force; that was the end of the old clothes and the beginning of the New."

 

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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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