Protecting People in the Big City


Some people have made an inference between the ancient city of Rome and modern day New York City. While Rome existed for over a thousand years, New York City has only been around for about 350 years. They both are known for their cultural and social impact on the rest of the world, as well as their wide influence into world politics. New York City, incidentally enough, is home to the headquarters of the United Nations. Over eight million people call the cities' five boroughs home, a feat that is similar to ancient Rome's population density. They even share some of the same problems, namely, crime. In such a densely populated urban area as New York City, there are bound to be some obstacles to overcome in keeping the citizenry safe. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has the difficult task of keeping the peace in New York City. This is their story.

Just as New York City (NYC) did not always exist in its current form, neither did the police department. Even in the old days, the need to maintain order was paramount. Of course, the stressors that influenced lawlessness were not the same as today, but nevertheless, problems existed. The first form of police in NYC (then known as New Amsterdam) was a man named Johann Lampo. As the first law enforcer in the New World, he held the job of “Schout Fiscal”, which means “Sheriff's Attorney”. The modern meaning of attorney did not fit his job description, however. The duties were a combination of a sheriff and a public prosecutor. Johann Lampo's jurisdiction extended from New Amsterdam to present day Albany.

Policing in the city evolved as the city grew from a one man show with Johann Lampo to a constable system. The expanded number of constables enabled them to take on more duties, such as night watch and fire patrols. A population boom was the primary reason for changing again. In 1790, the population of the city stood around 33,000 people; by 1845 it had exploded to over 400,000. The large increase in people in such a short time brought all sorts of new problems: more crime, an increasing number of slums, and rioting. This was the primary reason for creating a professional and dedicated police force called the Municipal Police.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel had created the world's first police force London, England that had been very effective. Seeking to harness some of that law and order, NYC also instituted reforms based on the London Model during the NYPD's creation in 1845. Beginning with a force of around 900 officers, a paramilitary structure was incorporated. Officers wore uniforms, had a defined chain of command, but only served a one or two-year tour of duty. Jobs in the public sector, especially on the police department, were subject to cronyism and being awarded for political favors. Corruption was everywhere and showed no signs of slowing down as the city continued to expand.

The politicians of the state of New York did not make it easier on the police, leading to what became famously known as the New York City Police Riot. During 1857, a political party in the state capital of Albany was looking for a way to bring the opposing political party (who controlled NYC) in line. To this end, they created a metropolitan police force and did away with the municipal police already in place. Now they were basically two separate police agencies at work in the city; one controlled by the state (metropolitan police) and the older city police (municipals). This led to a whole host of problems and was, in a way, a manner of warfare. The city controlled municipals were in constant conflict with the state controlled metropolitans. On one occasion, the metropolitans attempted to serve an arrest warrant on the mayor of NYC. The municipals intervened, but eventually were outnumbered when the state ordered in the 8th Infantry Regiment. A later decision by an appellate court upheld the actions of the State, and the municipals were officially and permanently disbanded.

During all of this conflict between the police, it created a void of order in the streets that gangs were eager to capitalize on. The disorder, infighting, lawlessness, ease of criminality, and police corruption led to the Gang Riots in the same year as the Police Riot. Known as the Dead Rabbit riot, this was the basis for the Hollywood movie Gangs of New York . It began as fight between rival gangs and quickly escalated to engulf the entire city. Other gangs seized the moment and began to loot and pillage. The police force, now the only law enforcement in the city, were overwhelmed and unable to control the streets. Once again, the 8 th Regiment had to be sent to take back the city. After a day of rioting and complete anarchy, the city was under control once again.

Corruption in the police department continued through the rest of the 19 th century. Scandals were everywhere and police bribes and payoffs were a common sight. Tammany Hall was a political machine within the city, dictating city politics in the 19 th century. It had heavily infiltrated the NYPD, and many cops were on the payroll of Tammany Hall. Several attempts at reformation failed and corruption continued. It was not a rare sight to see police officers, paid or ordered by Tammany Hall, to be present at polling places to ensure votes went the way they wanted them to. Election fraud, as well as any other type of fraud you can conceive, was largely ignored by the police.

Enter the now famous Theodore Roosevelt. A member of New York state politics for many years, Roosevelt was the Commissioner of the United States Civil Service until 1895, when he took the job as police commissioner for the NYPD. During his tenure, radical changes took place. A police revolver was standardized and every officer carried the New Colt Police Revolver. Firearms qualifications standards and practice were instituted. The police were modernized and cleaned out, and many new units were created as a result. Now common, units like the bomb squad, motorcycle squad, automobile squad, Emergency Services Unit (ESU), aviation squad and radio motor patrol were very innovative at the time. Under his leadership, the NYPD changed into something more closely resembling today's police force.

All of these new units were created to combat or prevent a prevailing form of crime. The bomb squad was created in 1905 in response to a group known as the Black Hand that extorted Italian immigrants through the use of dynamite. The motorcycle and automobile squads were created in 1911 and 1919, respectively, to make use of the benefit of police officers being able to travel farther in a shorter period of time. Early police cars served the same basic functions they do today: they held radios for contact with headquarters, first aid kits, flashlights, and forms necessary for the job. The ESU was established in 1926 to respond to the sorts of emergencies that patrol officers were ill-equipped to deal with, such as building collapses and subway extractions. There are some great pictures that detail what the ESU would accomplish.

The Great Depression and the World Wars had an effect on the NYPD. Long a force recognized for their anti-radical procedures, NYC was no place for people who were upset with the government. A large number of communists and out of work New Yorkers took to the streets to protest the economic strife. There they found the NYPD, and brutal treatment was waiting for them. Because of the publicized nature of the Great Depression and its effects, it was decided by city leaders at the time that a new manner of policing needed to be undertaken. Instead of brutality and force, tolerance and restraint were deemed to be more effective in dealing with public disorder. There were a large number of New York natives that grew up in the city, left to fight in one of the two World Wars, and came home to jobs on the police force. This experience, both with the city of their youth and of fighting for their country, furnished a new mindset with individual officers. Although the FBI is widely known for their domestic security role during the World Wars, the NYPD were also in the security business. They collected and provided intelligence on anti-American sentiments throughout the city. Throughout the period from the Great Depression through the end of the wars, the NYPD experienced a boost in numbers subsequent to their new roles.

Between 1930 and 1970, the NYPD was changed again through the management system. Previously, everything was centralized and decisions had to be handled at the higher echelons of the department to discourage corruption. In short, this did little to fight corruption but only added to the increase in bureaucratic inefficiency. A new management model was put in place that attempted to change policing into a set of standard rules. They became reactive instead of proactive, and very little was done to prevent crime. The overall success or failure of the police was measured by the quantity of arrests, disregarding any actual effect those arrests had on the crime rate.

The 1960's and 70's in America were a tumultuous time, especially in NYC. Long plagued by high crime and deep ethnic divides, the civil rights movement of the 60's and Vietnam War era did little to help the embattled NYPD. With the recent change away from pro-activity, NYPD officers were more frequently removed from walking their beats and put in cars. In this regard, response times to crimes were increased, but public contact and community policing decreased. During this time, especially in the late 70's, the NYPD was becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. Historically made up primarily of Caucasian Irish immigrants, the civil rights movement was prompting people of every race to apply to the department.

The 1970's also saw the rise of the policewoman in the NYPD. Women had been serving in various roles with the department since 1845, but were normally relegated to roles such as jail matrons and secreatries. In 1973, the Bureau of Policewomen (created in 1924) was officially abolished. The official title of “police officer” was incorporated to apply to all cops, regardless of gender. The first females patrol, serving as inspectors, and investigating homicides all occurred during the 70's.

The role of the NYPD continues to change, closely following world events. The terrorist attacks on September 11 th , 2001, served to substantially alter the NYPD. 23 officers were killed from the NYPD in the attacks, and their memories serve as a constant reminder to the rest of the force of how bad things can get. Anti-terrorism is now a major duty of the NYPD, and speaking to their success, there has not been a terrorist attack in NYC since 9/11. Terrorism notwithstanding, the NYPD continues to evolve into the 21 st century. They are a fixture all over the world, not only withing NYC. They traveled to Haiti to train the local police force on effective policing. They have the International Liaison Program, which stations NYPD officers in major cities around the world to collect terrorism information pertaining to NYC. They have real time computerized crime mapping through the Real Time Crime Center that helps to marshal resources where they are needed. They have also returned to the days of community policing to prevent as well as respond to crime. The NYPD has become a technological, intelligent, and powerful weapon in the war on crime and terror.

The long, rich history of the NYPD runs alongside the history of the city itself. In large part, NYC is what it is today because of the police department. They have been influential in the politics of the city, both good and bad. Crime has come in waves, but has been battled back by the department time and time again. They stand the line and protect the citizens of NYC from crime and terror. Thanks in large part to specialized squads and departments in the NYPD, crime has been kept under control. There are squads or divisions for every major type of crime that exists, from homicide to car thefts to bank robberies. They have even been referred to as America's best counterterror force. They have been at the forefront of every major change in society and policing and have come out ahead. From the civil rights movement that incorporated larger numbers of minorities to the change back to community policing, the NYPD has led the way and became a model for other departments to follow.