Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 6, Part 2

By Holice and Debbie


The next innovation came when the bands and the buttons were brought on gradually. Said the late Inspector Thorne:

"On one occasion the thirteenth Ward Police were going to a target excursion. Myself and ex-Captain Steers, father of the present Captain Steers, were appointed a committee to wait upon Chief Matsell to get permission from him to go to the excursion. The chief consented on condition that the men would put the brass buttons on the coat furnished by the city; that was the compromise, and it was accepted.

"At that time business firms used to give from twenty-five to forty dollars for the best marksman, but no matter whether the men hit the target or not, they were sure to get the reward. The early target excursions were great features with the Police, and each Ward used to turnout, and have the leading citizens as their guests.

"At this time the uniforms consisted at first of a blue cloth coat with a velvet collar, and nine black buttons on the front. Afterwards an addition was made by substituting the brass buttons for the black buttons, and gray pants with a black stripe one inch in width on each side. Cloth caps were furnished by the city, and a fire cap similar to that worn by firemen to go to fires, riots, etc.

"Summer uniforms were adopted by each Ward as they thought proper, each Ward selecting uniforms of their own choice.

"Soma Wards adopted duck suits and sack coats. Other Wards adopted different colors. Uniformity did not exist in general. Some wore Panama hats, some straw, and some felt, but each Ward had a special uniform of is own.

"When the Metropolitan force was organized, the Commissioners changed the uniform, and made it a blue cloth with brass buttons, blue pants with white stripe, blue vest and brass buttons. In the summer the officers wore white pants, white vests, and Panama hats. That continued until they commenced wearing flannel clothes in summer."

The Commissioners, on entering upon the discharge of their duties, determined to render judgment upon cases brought before them for trial immediately after the trail came, and before interest individuals connected with the department could have an opportunity to interfere. The effect of this determination upon the department was almost magical. During the first six month but one hundred and forty-three policemen were cited to appear before the Commissioners for trial, being a diminution of one-fourth, as compared with the previous six months. This had resulted entirely from the certainty and not from the severity of the punishment, as but three or four trials had taken place in which judgment was not immediately rendered. The old system of detailing officers for various special duties, which was open to so many objections on account of the abuses perpetrated under it, had been abolished, and a reserve corps, as already noticed, established. The Commissioners also adopted a resolution requiring all the members of the department to wear a blue coat of uniform make, and a cap for night and day patrol duty, so that the men could be easily recognized by the citizens. The regulation had been complied with by all the members of the department, with three or four exceptions. The Policemen who had refused to comply were tried by the Commissioners of Police, and dismissed the force. And the case carried up to the Supreme Court, where the action of the commissioners was sustained.

Chief Matsell selected a competent Policeman to act as Drill Sergeant, whose duty it was to take the men appointed by the Commissioners and instruct them in the military art, and in the rules and regulation adopted for the government of the Police Department. While under instruction they were required to act as a reserve force to attend at fires, etc., and to perform patrol duty in different parts of the city, under the direction of their Sergeants. After being thus thoroughly drilled and instructed, they were directed to report themselves to their several Captains, and were ready to perform any duty he might require of them.

The greatest benefit, it was acknowledge, resulting to the community under the law of 1653, was the separation of the department from political influences. Under the former law, Policemen well understood that they had to enter the political arena, and connect themselves with the dominant clique of partisans in the separate Wards, in order to secure a re-appointment at the expiration of the term for which they were appointed. So that of being disinterested officers at the polls during the elections, they became interested partisans, striving for the success of their favorite cliques. Policemen were found connected with clubs, committees, and other organizations of a political character, leading them to perform their duty with inattention, and sometimes to entirely neglect it,. thus exercising a most baneful influence upon the efficiency and character of the department. In this way the whole force was turned into apolitical engine for the advancement of particular cliques or individuals. To obviate this evil, the Commissioners adopted a rule to the effect that no member would be permitted to connect himself, directly or indirectly, in any way, with a society, club, committee, or organization of any kind, the object of which was the political advancement of a party, clique or individual.

By resolution of the Common Council, passed October 21, 1853, the salaries were increased as follows:






Sergeants and Policemen


By resolution, approved the twenty-ninth of the following December, the salary of Doormen was increased to six hundred dollars per annum.

The effective force on the first day of January, 1854, was: Captains, nineteen; Lieutenants, forty; Sergeants, seventy-seven; and Policemen, eight hundred and forty-two. Total: 978.

The whole number of arrests, and description of offenses, from the first of organization of the Police Department, January 13, 1845, to the thirty-first of December, 1853, inclusive, is as follows:



Assault with intent to kill


Assault and battery


Assaulting, and interring with Police


Attempt at rape


Attempt to steal


Attempt at burglary


Aiding and assisting to escape










Constructive Larceny


Disorderly conduct




Driving without license




Escaped Convicts








Fighting in the street




Grand larceny






Intoxication and disorderly conduct


Indecent exposure


Insulting females


Keeping disorderly house


Miscellaneous misdemeanors




Obtaining goods under false pretenses


Petit Larceny




Passing counterfeit money






Robbing in the first degree


Receiving stolen goods


Runaway apprentices


Selling liquor without license


Threatening life




Violation corporation ordinances




From the first of January to the thirtieth of June, 1854, there were twenty-five thousand one hundred and ten persons arrested for criminal offenses, being an increase of two thousand eight hundred and seventy-four over the previous six months, and an increase of seven thousand three hundred and ninety-seven over the corresponding period of time in 1853. Of the whole number, there were arrested by the reserve corps three thousand nine hundred and eighty-five; one thousand and thirty-five of which were for violation of the corporation ordinances. This large increase in the number of arrests resulted, as Chief Matsell claimed, from an increased activity and vigilance on the part of Policemen.

The force, without doubt, had greatly improved. The appointment of Commissioners and the introduction of a uniform had much to do with this. A stricter discipline was also enforced, and the men began to take an honest pride in their work, and to be a terror to evil-doers.

The commissioners on Rules and Regulations promulgated a new regulation in relation to the dress to be worn by the members of the force when on duty. This regulation prescribed uniform trousers, buttons, belt for baton, and an overcoat, to be work in winter, and lighter coats for summer use. By previous regulations, the Captains of the several districts were empowered to select the material for the summer coats to be worn by the members of their command, but this was not found to work well in practical operation, as there was no uniformity of appearance, and the before began to assume the same look of negligence in attire that existed previous to the adoption of the uniform coat and cap, and numerous complaints were made by citizens that they could scarcely distinguish a policeman from any other citizen. This new regulation imposed upon the members of the department additional expense, which in many, if not in every instance, was found hard to be borne, and it was asked that the Common Council make an appropriation to meet the whole or a portion of these additional expenses.

Complaint having been made by chief of Police Matsell to the Mayor, of the inadequate accommodations of the stations houses, their unsanitary condition and general dilapidation, an inspection and report of the various station houses were caused to be made, from which it appears that the necessity for reform and improvement was urgent. Chief Matsell, in view of these facts, suggested that two or three eminent architects should be invited to draw plans for a model station house, and that thereafter all station houses should be required to be built according to the plan adopted.

From the first day of January to the thirtieth day of June, 1854, inclusive, two hundred and thirty-nine complaints were preferred against members of the Police Department, which were disposed of as follows:

Dismissed from office


Resigned, after complaint


Complaints dismissed


Suspended from pay




The effective force on the first of July, 1854, was: Captains, twenty-two; Lieutenants, forty-four; Sergeants, eight-three; and Policemen, nine hundred and fifty-three. Total, 1,102.

On the first day of January, 1855, the effective force was: Captains, twenty-two; Lieutenants, forty-four; Sergeants, eighty-eight; and Policemen, nine hundred and sixty-two. Total, 1,116.

The sanitary conditions of nearly all the station houses was defective in a marked degree, and but little attention was paid to the general health of the force. This naturally resulted in much unnecessary suffering and sickness among the members, and a consequent loss of time to the department. Under the old system station houses were rarely visited and inspected; cleanliness was not deemed a part of the discipline, and when sick at home, the men were not visited, except merely to ascertain whether the disability had been procured in the discharge of duty. This led, in 1855, to an alteration in the surgical bureau of the department. The new plan regarded the proper ventilation and cleanliness of the station houses and sleeping apartments; furnished at all times a sufficient supply of medicines, surgical instrument, tourniquets, etc., required immediate attention to be given to all invalid Policemen, whether becoming sick or disabled bin the discharge of duty or not, until entirely recovered and fir for duty. In order the better to carry out this system, the city was divided into seven surgical districts, and each district was placed under the charge of a competent practicing physician, who, under the law, had to be appointed a Policeman, and detailed for this duty, with a Surgeon-General as chief of the whole, to whom reports were made by the District Surgeons once every forty-eight hours. Critical physical examinations were made of every persons appointed by the Commissioners, not only by the District surgeon in the Ward to which said person might belong, but also by the Surgeon-General stationed permanently at the office of the Chief of Police. Stephen Hasbrouck, M. D., filled the post of Surgeon-General.

During the five months succeeding the established of this surgical system, it appears from the records that the time lost by reason of sickness or disability of the Policemen, in all the twenty-two districts, amounted to three thousand nine hundred and forty-six and one-half days, and the time lost during a corresponding period in 1854, amounted to five thousand three hundred and seventy-nine days.

The amount thus saved was several hundred dollars over the sum necessary to pay all the surgeons, besides the advantage of the men of receiving the benefit of prompt and gratuitous attendance.



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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