The NYPD’s pioneering 19th century mugshots

One more thing that appears to have gotten its start in New York? The mugshot. The city’s nascent police force began taking photographs of criminals as early as 1857.

Byrnesbook1

“The culprits of New-York, pickpockets. burglars, shoplifters, forgers, and the whole genus of swindlers, owe no debt of gratitude to Monsieur Daguerre,” stated a New York Times article published that year.

RoguesgallerynypdThe article explained that police had hired a “daguerreotypist” to capture 28 images of some of the more notorious street thieves, which were then kept in a book dubbed the Rogue’s Gallery.

Over the next few decades, the Rogue’s Gallery expanded into the hundreds.

ThomasbyrnesphotoBut it really took off and became a prime crime-fighting tool under the reign of chief of detectives Thomas Byrnes in the 1880s.

Among his other police innovations (like the Third Degree and the Dead Line), Byrnes came up with the idea of taking a photo of every criminal suspect, not just known crooks.

He then cataloged the suspect’s image, along with a physical description and other details that could be used to identify the potential lawbreaker before an offense was committed.

Byrnes’ Rogue’s Gallery was housed in a room on the first floor of police headquarters (above), which was then located on Mulberry Street.

Byrnesbook3

He even published a book in 1886, Professional Criminals of America, which was kind of a portable Rogue’s Gallery containing photos and descriptions of 200 bad characters.

NY3DBox“In fact, it is a bad thing to judge by appearances, and it is not always safe to judge against them,” wrote Byrnes.

Did the Rogue’s Gallery work? Crime did drop, but it’s hard to know if all the mugshots had anything to do with it.

Read more about the early policing efforts of the NYPD and the pioneering crime-fighting tactics of Byrnes, promoted to police chief in the 1890s, in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age, in bookstores June 3.

[Mugshot images: Professional Criminals in America]

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5 Responses to “The NYPD’s pioneering 19th century mugshots”

  1. ossininghistoryjournal Says:

    There seems to have been a more well dressed and more carefully groomed class of criminals back in the day.

  2. Kazza Says:

    They had better nicknames, too! Kid Glove Rosey, indeed.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    And Pugsley Hurley and Rice-Black Lena!

  4. Kazza Says:

    I think my favourite has to be Mary Connelly, aka Irving. Really? IRVING? That’s just awesome.

  5. Kathleen Brady Says:

    Looks like a family album! Thank you for all this.

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