Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Top Cop

Location:   Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan
Year:   1895-1897

In 1895, Theodore Roosevelt received an invitation from New York City's Progressive Mayor, William Strong, to become a Commissioner of the New York City Police Board.  Due to T.R.'s influence, he was elected President of the Board.  New York's Finest were infamous as the most corrupt cops in America at the time.

Police Board President Roosevelt established the first Police Academy in the U.S., pioneered bicycle patrols, promoted civil service reforms for recruitment and promotion of officers, hired minority officers (including female clerks), created meritorious service medals, had telephones installed in station houses, fought the endless and endemic corruption of the N.Y.P.D., and established a Municipal Lodging House for Waifs through the Board of Charities. 

T.R. was famous for disguising himself and patrolling the streets at night with his journalist friends Jacob Riis and Lincoln Steffens, hoping to catch policemen accepting bribes, drinking on the job, sleeping, or in flagrante delicto with prostitutes. 

His reformist zeal soon sickened a number of his fellow Police Board members who acted together to block his reforms (and incidentally maintain their own bribetaking systems). Finally frustrated, Roosevelt quit the Police Board in 1897, but subsequently, as Governor of New York State, T.R. signed an act in March 1901 to replace the corrupt, bureaucratic, and politicized Board of Police Commissioners with a single Police Commissioner.

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