Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 7, Part 3

By Holice and Debbie


During twenty-nine ears ending with 1858, thirty-eight persons had been sentenced for capital crimes, of whom seventeen had been executed, fourteen had their sentences commuted to imprisonment for life, one was pardoned, one committed suicide, and to four a new trial was granted, of whom three were convicted of manslaughter and one discharged. One was under sentence of death at the beginning of 1859.

The Metropolitan Police District was divided into precincts. The precincts were divided into beats. In the city of New York each of the several Wards constituted a precinct corresponding in number to that of the Ward; except that part of the Twelfth and part of the Nineteenth Wards which constituted precinct No. 23; the East and Hudson rivers, within the boundaries of New York and the Bay of New York, constituted precinct No. 24, or Harbor Police; the Detective force constituted Precinct No. 25; and the force assigned especially for the enforcement of ordinances constituted Precincts No. 26. In each of the precincts there was one or more station houses. The force was divided into companies, one company being allotted to each precinct.

The Police Commissioners, from the first, had an exalted and intelligent conception of their duties. In the latter parts of 1859 they drew up and published a series of rules and regulations for the government and guidance of the force. General superintendent Pilsbury, in his address to the Police, says: "The uniform you wear should be a perpetual 'coat of mail' to guard you against every temptation to which you may be exposed, by reminding you that no act of misconduct, or breach of discipline, can escape public observation and censure. By exemplary conduct and manly deportment, you will command the respect and cordial support of all good citizens. For the faithful performance of the important trusts committed to your care, you will be noticed approvingly, and your services will be appreciated by the community."

And again: "Every Policeman must be circumspect in his deportment, erect ands manly in his carriage, and scrupulously discreet in his language and acts. He must be firm, but courteous, in the exercise of his authority. * * * * He must be neat and soldierly in his appearance. * * * * He must never, under any circumstances, use vulgar or profane language."

The rules and regulations were quite numerous, and space can be found but for brief mention of a few:

The General Superintendent was by law the executive hear of the whole Police force of the Metropolitan Police District, and it was the duty of the members of the same to respect and obey him accordingly. It was his duty to repair in person to all serious or extensive fires in the cities of New York and Brooklyn; to all riots or tumultuous assemblages within the district, and take command of the Police present, to save and protect property, and arrest such persons as he might find disturbing the pace, or inciting others to do so. he had power to direct, temporarily, any, or all, of the Police force, to any place within the district where their services might be deemed necessary. He had the supervision of the public health of the district, and it was his duty to communicate to the board of Police and to the Mayors of New York and Brooklyn the presence of any contagious or infectious disease, or the existence of any nuisance in the district which might be detrimental to the public health. The returns and reports of commanding officers of any patrol force station elsewhere than in the cities of New York and Brooklyn, were made to the General Superintendent. It was his duty to see that the laws of the State and the ordinances of the city, town and village authorities, were duly enforced throughout the district.

Under the direction of the General Superintendent, the Deputy Superintendents had supervision of the Police force. It was their duty to see that the orders and directions of the General Superintendent in relation to the dress, discipline, deportment, and duties of members of the force were promptly obeyed, and the rules and regulations of the Police Board enforced.

The Captains of Police were held strictly responsible for the preservation of the public peace in their respective precincts; and to insure good order, they were vested with the power to post the men under their command in such parts of their precincts, and to assign them such duties, as they might deem expedient.

In case of sickness, or in the absence of the Captain from the Police station house, or from his precinct, the duties required of him were performed by one of the Sergeants of the precinct, selected for that purpose by the General Superintendent. The Sergeant so selected, during the absence of the Captain, possessed and exercised all the powers of a Captain, and enforce the rules and regulations established for the government of the precinct.

The prevention of crime being the most important object in view, a Patrolman's exertions should be constantly used to accomplish that end; his should examine and make himself perfectly acquainted with every part of his beat, and vigilantly watch every description of person passing his way. He should to the utmost of his power, prevent the commission of assaults, breaches of the peace, and all other crimes about to be committed, and by his vigilance, render it extremely difficult for any one to commit crime on his beat (the absence of crime being considered the best proof of efficiency), and, when on any beat offences frequently occur, there is good reason to suppose that there is negligence or want of ability on the part of the person in charge of said beat.

Persons appointed to serve on the Police Force should---

First--Be able to read and write the English language.
Second--Be citizens of the United States.
Third--have been residents of the Metropolitan Police District during a term of five years next preceding their appointment.
Fourth--Never have been convicted of crime.
Fifth--At least five feet eight inches in height.
Sixth--Not over thirty-five years of age.
Seventh--Of good health and sound body.
Eighth--Of good moral character.

Any member of the Police force might be immediately dismissed from office, in addition to any other punishment he might be subject to by law, against whom any of the following charges should be substantiated:--

Second--Willful disobedience of orders.
Third--Violent, coarse, or insolent language or behavior to a superior, or other person.
Fourth--Receiving money, or other valuable things contrary to the Rules and Regulations, or the Statutes of the State.
Fifth--Willful non-compliance with the Rules and Regulations.
Sixth--Inefficiency, or gross neglect of duty.
Seventh--Willful maltreating or using unnecessary violence toward a prisoner or citizen.
Eighth--Any member of the Police force who was found neglecting the payment of his just debts for necessaries or rent, or was found guilty of any act of insubordination or disrespect toward his superior officers, or others, or conduct unworthy oft his station, might be reprimanded, fined, or have deductions made from his pay, proportioned to his offense, or , in cases of repeated violation of the rule, might be dismissed. No persons should be removed from the Police force except upon written charges, preferred against him to the Board of Police, and an opportunity afforded him of being heard in his defense, as prescribed by the law.

The mode of trial, when charges had been preferred, was by taking the testimony on oath against and or the accused officer, and reducing the substance thereof to writing. The same might be taken by or before one or more of the Police commissioners, and one of the clerks (under the direction of the Commissioner or Commissioners sitting) took down, as aforesaid, the substance of the testimony. The testimony was reported to the Board of Police commissioners, with the opinion thereon of the Commissioner, or Commissioners before whom the same was taken, for the action and the decision of the Board thereon.

The dress of the General Superintendent was a blue dress coat with Police buttons; the dress of the Deputy Superintendent, Captains and Sergeants of Police, was a double-breasted frock coat, with Police buttons, and blue pantaloons. Patrolmen on duty, unless specially authorized to appear in citizen's dress, on all occasion wore a black stock, a frock-coat of navy blue cloth, single-breasted, and with rolling collar, nine buttons on the breast, two buttons on the hips, also two buttons on the bottom of the skirt; blue waistcoat and blue pantaloons, on the outer seam of which there was a white cord. The coat was buttoned at all times when on duty. Captains, Sergeants, and Patrolmen, when on duty, wore caps, shields, badges, emblems, devises, belts and buttons, corresponding to a sample deposited in the office of the General Superintendent, and the time of wearing them was directed by him.

Deputy Superintendent Daniel Carpenter, in his quarterly report, ending January 31, 1859, mentions some of the causes of crime, namely; there were at this date seven thousand seven hundred and seventy-nine places where intoxicating liquors were sold at retail. From the reports of the Captains of nineteen precincts it appears that there were four hundred and ninety-six known houses of prostitution, and eighty-four house of assignation. These included one hundred and seventy lager beer and drinking saloons, combined with houses of ill-fame; one hundred and eighty-five low groggeries, where known thieves and fallen women daily and nightly resorted, but a strict police surveillance was kept over the, thereby preventing them from committing depredations that they otherwise would.

The Board of Supervisors had shortly before increased the Patrol force to one thousand two hundred and fifty men.

On the first of November, 1859, there were altogether (including the entire district) one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine persons belonging to the Metropolitan Police Department, namely:

General Superintendent, one; Deputy Superintendents, two; Chief, Deputy and Property Clerks, six; Surgeons, five; Captains, thirty-two; Sergeants, one hundred and thirty-five; Policemen on patrol duty, one thousand three hundred and twenty-seven; Policemen on detailed duty, one hundred and eighteen; Doormen, seventy-three.

The sick list averaged during the last quarter forty-six and two-thirds persons daily. On an average, each patrolman in New York lost two and one-half days during the quarter by sickness. The aggregate lost time, by reason of sickness and disability, during this quarter, was three hundred and sixty-four and one-half days.

The Metropolitan Act was amended by the legislature on April 10, 1860. The Metropolitan Police district was then made to comprise the counties of New York, Kings, Westchester and Richmond, and the towns of Newtown, Flushing and Jamaica, in the county of Queens. The Governor appointed the following to fill vacancies:

John g. Bergen, Amos Pilsbury, and James Bowen, Pilsbury resigned, and Thomas C. Acton was appointed in his place.

On May 23, 1860, the Board appointed John A. Kennedy Superintendent of Police in place of Amos Pilsbury, who was appointed Commissioner.

The designation of rank, under this chapter, was as follows: Superintendent, Inspectors, Captains, Sergeants, Patrolmen and Doormen.

The office of Deputy Superintendent was abolished. The following were appointed Inspectors: Daniel Carpenter, John S. Folk, George W. Dilks, and James Leonard.

Salaries: Treasurer, three thousand dollars per annum; other Commissioners, eight dollars for each day's actual service; Superintendent, five thousand dollars; Inspectors, two thousand dollars; Surgeons, one thousand five hundred dollars; Captains, one thousand two hundred dollars; Sergeants, nine hundred dollars; Patrolmen, eight hundred dollars; Doormen, seven hundred dollars.

The term of office continued to be during good behavior.

This Act essentially modified the constitution of the Board of Police, by reducing the number of its members, and by enlarging its powers, and confiding to it new and important duties. By the provision of the Act of 1857, the Board of Police consisted of five Commissioners and the Mayors of the cities of New York and Brooklyn. The number of Commissioners was reduced to three, and the Mayors of New York and Brooklyn were relieved from the Police duties which had been imposed upon them. The change was not without its advantages. It secured, for instance, harmony of action, and the constant attention of the members of the Board to the important trusts confided to them. At the date of the passage of the amended Act, the office of Superintendent of Police was vacant. On the twenty-third of May, 1860, John A. Kennedy was appointed to fill the vacancy.

Besides the principal office in the City Hall, up to 1844, there was a branch office at the corner of Bowery and Third Street. The office hours were from nine o'clock A. M. until sunset. One of the Magistrates received the Watch at daybreak every morning; which duty was performed weekly by each magistrate alternately. In 1857, at the time of the conflict between Mayor Wood and the newly appointed Police commissioners, the Headquarters were moved from the City Hall to No. 88 White Street, and six months later to No. 413 Broome Street, and in 1863, to the present building at No. 300 Mulberry Street. The new Headquarters, with the land and buildings, and the additions made in 1868 and 1869, cost two hundred and thirty thousand eight hundred and sixty dollars and ninety cents. The expense was defrayed from a surplus accumulated by careful economy from the annual appropriations from the maintenance of the Police in New York, and by virtue of the legal authority vested in the Board by the Police law in 1860. The title to the property is vested in the county of New York.

The area of territory embraced in the metropolitan Police district was none hundred and twenty square miles, and the population estimated at fourteen hundred thousand persons. Except in the cities of New York and Brooklyn, there was no Police force permanently stationed in any part of the district, and in those cities the force was quite inadequate for the population they contained.

The Police force at this time consisted of one Superintendent, four Inspectors, thirty-two Captains, one hundred and forty-six Sergeants, one thousand six hundred Patrolmen.

The cities of New York and Brooklyn were divided into precincts, to each of which there were assigned one Captain, four Sergeants, and from forty to sixty Patrolmen. There were also sub-precincts, to which two sergeants and from ten to fifteen men were assigned. Two doormen were attached to each station house.

In the cities of Europe, where the Police were sustained by the constant presence of a military force, there was a Policeman to about five hundred inhabitants, while in the city of New York, the proportion which the Police bore to the population was one to six hundred, and fifty, and in the city of Brooklyn, as one to one thousand three hundred and eighty.

The Embassy from the government of Japan, which visits the city of New York in June (1860) gave to the Board for the benefit of the Metropolitan Police, the sum of thirteen thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars, with the recommendation that it should constitute a fund, and that the annual interest thereof be distributed among the force in such manner as the board should deem expedient.

To the Captain who should have best performed his duty for the preceding year, two hundred dollars.

To the two Sergeants who should have best performed their duty, each, one hundred and twenty-five dollars.

To the five Patrolmen who should have best performed their duty, each, one hundred dollars.

The whole numbers of arrests for the year 1860:

Offences against the person


Offences against property




The drafts upon the force, for the discharge of numerous duties, reduced the active Patrol force in New York to one thousand and ten men. This number was further subject to a reduction by sickness and absence. The needful requirements for rest and refreshments prevented more than one-half of that number, except in extreme cases, from being on post at one time. Hence all streets and piers of the city of New York were guarded by a force not exceeding four hundred and ninety-one men. In the city of New York there were, at this time, four hundred and twelve and one-eighth miles of streets, and twelve and one-eighth miles of piers, being an aggregate of four hundred and twenty-four and one-fourth miles. Should every man--whose duty it was to patrol, deducting the sick only--be on post, the average length of the beats would be eight hundred and sixty-two one-thousandths of a mile, very nearly seven-eighths of a mile for each man to guard. But as in many places, from the turbulent character of the population or other cause, the patrol was required to be doubled, and a further reduction occurring in the number of the men by occasional necessary absence, the actual force on duty would be allow the length of beats to average less than one and one-fourth miles.

The supervisors of the County of New York had authorized the increase of the Patrol force of that county from fourteen to eighteen hundred men. The Police then consisted of a Superintendent, four inspectors, thirty-eight Captains, one hundred and sixty Sergeants, two thousand patrolmen, of whom thirty Captains, one hundred and twenty-nine Sergeants, and one thousand eight hundred patrolmen were stationed in the city of New York, and the remainder in the city of Brooklyn.

It was estimated that for the proper protection of the public interest, the police force of a city should be as one Patrolman to every five hundred inhabitants. This proportion was maintained in the city of New York; but in Brooklyn, which contained three hundred thousand inhabitants, there were stationed but two hundred Patrolmen, or one to every one thousand five hundred inhabitants.

In the month of May, this year, the Grand Jury of New York requested the Board of police to supervise the cleaning of streets. In accordance with this request the Board caused daily reports to be made by the Patrolmen of the streets swept, and make weekly returns thereof to the Comptroller.



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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