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Fidelis ad Mortem A History of The New York Police Essay

Since the declaration of Dutch independence in 1609, the city of New York, the called New Amsterdam, had been a relatively large and sprawling municipality. As one might expect, the city had criminal elements in proportion to its population. (Costello, 1885) Throughout its history, the entity that would become the New York Police Department has represented the leading edge in law enforcement, organization, technology and civilian relations. By 1800, having repaired the privations caused by the revolution of 1776, the city began to formalize its law enforcement procedures. Costello, 1885) In 1798, the city established its first official police office.

By 1800, the city had four incarceration centers. Three of them were criminal jails and one was a debt prison. (Costello, 1885) The institutions were the State Prison, the Penitentiary, Bridewell, and The Jail. (Costello, 1885) The city had already been administratively divided into three districts. Because two of the districts were so large geographically, the “Watch” as they were called then, abandoned their traditional practice of standing at station, and began the first foot patrol in the history of New York law enforcement. Costello, 1885) By 1803 the number of patrolmen in each of the three districts fifty, fifty-four and thirty-six.

Each district was overseen by two captains of the watch, who were the administrative heads of the district. (Costello, 1885) This system, called the constabulary (as it was administered by constables) lasted and grew until the formal establishment of a police department in 1845. After the last high constable of the city of New York (a position analogous to the Police Commissioner) Jacob Hayes, retired in 1844, the governor of New York gave permission to the mayor to establish a police force. Costello, 1885) Watchmen and constables were replaced with police officers. (Costello, 1885) The officers wore eight-pointed stars (these represented the eight constables of the watch that existed in 1844) featuring the city seal, and made of copper. (Frequently Asked…1999) It was the wearing of these copper stars that earned the police the nickname “cop”. (Short for copper). (Frequently Asked…1999)

In Britain, the same nickname for police was derived from the initials of their title, Citizens on Patrol. Thus the United States and Britain had their own distinct “cops” patrolling the street. Frequently Asked…1999) The headquarters of the New York Police Department have changed over times. They began as a series of offices in City Hall, and in 1909, a building dedicated entirely to police administration was built on Center Street in Little Italy. This remained the centerpiece of the department until 1973, when the offices were relocated to the financial district at One Police Plaza. The image of a modern New York City patrol officer is a combination of many traditions, regulations, habits and practices adopted and adapted for conditions within New York City. Frequently Asked…1999) The eight-pointed hat that is emblematic of the patrol officer is a memorial of the eight original Dutch Watchmen. (Frequently Asked…1999)

These hats have been standard issue for patrol officers since 1928. (Frequently Asked…1999) The “night stick” is so-named because police used to have two sticks as weapon issue. (Frequently Asked…1999) One was 11 inches long, and the second was 26 inches long. The longer stick was used on night patrol as this was the more dangerous time for the police. The 11-inch day-stick has since been abandoned, but the longer “night sticks” are still standard issue. Frequently Asked…1999) The patrolmen of the NYPD began carrying guns by regulation in 1887. (Frequently Asked…1999) Originally mandated as a . 32 Colt revolver, the traditional police handgun was changed to a . 38 revolver stamped with the wielder’s shield number. (Frequently Asked…1999) This standard service revolver was the required primary weapon until 1993, when the force officially switched to nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistols. (Frequently Asked…1999) As the police department grew, the traditions and habits with which we are familiar from movies and television began to develop.

From 1854 until the practice was discontinued in 1959, the force used whistles to summon fellow officers when needed. (Frequently Asked…1999) The whistles had a loud and distinct sound, and replaced the practice of banging on the curb with an officer’s nightstick. By 1959, radio technology rendered the whistles obsolete, and they were no longer standard issues for patrol officers. (Frequently Asked…1999) They remain in use for traffic-control officers; however, as they still serve to call attention of civilian drivers. (Frequently Asked…1999) As a social institution, the NYPD was more progressive than many of its institutional counterparts. Frequently Asked…1999) As early as 1911, well before the Civil Rights movement, the NYPD Appointed Samuel J. Battle as the first African-American police officer. Hispanics received representation in NYPD even earlier. (Frequently Asked…1999) George Garcia was the first Hispanic police officer, appointed in 1896. (Frequently Asked…1999)

The necessity of having to deal with female criminals made the appointment of female officers an earlier necessity. (Frequently Asked…1999) In 1891, four police matrons were appointed to deal with female prisoners. In 1911, the title of Policewoman was created, and six women were appointed. Frequently Asked…1999) Despite their long history of diligence, bravery and courage in a very difficult setting, the NYPD has also had its share of low points. In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the department fell victim to rampant corruption. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) Criminal organizations had made permanent and profitable allies in within the department, and the police began acting according to the whims of crime bosses, offering enforcement and punishment for drug trafficking enterprises throughout the city. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. When an officer, Frank Serpico, attempted to expose these abuses, he was violently repressed by members of the police department. Eventually, in the early 1970s, after being shot in the face in the line of duty (under suspicious circumstances) Serpico took his story to the New York Times. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. )

Under close scrutiny from the press, the Mayor formed a commission to investigate the corruption claims. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) The resulting Knapp Commission investigation led to the removal of the police chief, Frank Leary, who was replaced by Patrick Murphy. Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) Murphy instituted many reforms and helped the department regain the trust of the people. Despite this victory, Serpico himself was harassed by his fellow officers for turning “rat. ” (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) He retired from the police and moved to Europe. This incident highlighted an ongoing problem in New York Police History. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) With the prevalence of alcohol bootlegging, and , later, drug trafficking, it was easy for organized criminals to bribe special treatment from the police.

While not many officials were actually corrupt, it was very difficult to weed out corruption, because the police tend to be extremely loyal, and a Serpico’s case shows, reluctant to implicate one of their own. (Kefauver Investigation… n. d. ) Cases of abuse by the police have also been alleged in the latter half of the 20th century. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 1962, mobster and alleged murderer Frank Lito accused the department of extreme acts of violence during his interrogation. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). His claims were backed by his appearing with broken limbs(Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008)..

The department was forced to release him under probation when he threatened to bring a civil suit. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 1994, a police officer was accused of choking Anthony Baez. At the officer’s trial, two other officers were also convicted of lying to cover the incident up. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 1997, another abuse case, this one occurring in the offices of the 70th precinct resulted in the conviction of several officers for both the act and the cover-up. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 1999, Amadou Diallo, an innocent citizen, was shot 41 times by Street Crimes detectives who mistook him for a criminal. Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008).

Diallo was unarmed. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). The Street Crimes unit was disbanded as a result, and the city had to pay a $30,000,000 settlement to the family. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). A few notable incidences also occurred where public violence was caused or inflamed by police activity. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 1988, Tompkin Square Park erupted when police attempted to enforce a curfew. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). After police clashed violently with protesters, the commissioner found that the fault for the violence was on the poor planning and execution by the NYPD.

In another notable incident, the NYPD was actually the instigator of a riot in 1992. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). Supporters of mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD rioted and attacked city hall under then-mayor David Dinkins. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). Dinkins was forced to close City Hall to the police in fear of further violence. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). In 2007 The New York state inspector general said that the New York City Police Department’s crime lab cut corners analyzing evidence and submitted results in drug cases without having done the required tests in 2002. Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008).

Inspector General Kristine Hamann said that serious errors were made following exsisting protocols, which had since been changed. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). She said past officials failed to appropriately monitor some lab workers’ performance and enforce standards. Hamann said her investigation began after the state Division of Criminal Justice Services asked her to investigate allegations of “dry labbing” – sending results to police and prosecutors without doing the actual lab tests – in 2002. Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). Despite these incidents, and numerous other cases of varying brutality and error, the overall record of the NYPD is impressive. The men and women of the New York Police department also have a long and prestigious history of protecting the population of the city. (Bosak, 1999)

In 1863, in the middle of a hot summer, and short of patrolmen, the Police of New York was called upon to protect African Americans of the city from the rioting mobs who protested Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War Draft. Bosak, 1999) The African-Americans were obvious targets given the perception in the city that the war was being fought to free southern slaves. (Bosak, 1999) The violence began as the enlistment office on 3rd Ave. was burned to the ground by a segment of the city’s own fire department in protest to their prospective draft. (Bosak, 1999) Beaten nearly to death on his way to third avenue, was Joseph Kennedy, a police Chief of Department, and police precinct offices became targets of rioters as four were killed and two station houses destroyed on the first day of riots. Bosak, 1999) As the rioting expanded, the citizen protesters were joined by criminals, looters and other miscreants and the violence escalated (Bosak, 1999).

The armory was sacked and burned, and the rioters did the same to a home for orphaned Black children. (Bosak, 1999) A station on West 35th St. wired police headquarters on Mulberry Street with a question. (Bosak, 1999) Expecting an attack, they asked if they should fight or flee. The message they received from police headquarters was a single word: “Fight. (Bosak, 1999) The 35th street station took in the Black orphans and withstood seven attacks by the mob without capitulating. (Bosak, 1999) It was from events during this riot that the citizens gifted the NYPD with their motto, Fidelis ad Mortem”, loyal to the death. (Bosak, 1999) From 1806 to 2007, the department has lost 758 officers in the line of duty. Of those deaths, twenty-three occurred as a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in September of 2001. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). Nearly half of the remainder of deaths was from hostile gunfire. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008).

Headquartered now at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan’s financial District. , the New York City Police department spans over 20 different departments and nearly eighty patrol precincts. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). Despite the occasional instances of misconduct, the nearly 40,000 men and women of the New York Police Department have served with a great deal of distinction under very difficult circumstances in a city renowned for its violence, drug use and crime. (Mushabec & Wiggen, 2008). The police have been able to reduce the occurrence of all of these acts, and continue to earn the trust of the population.


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