Cop vs. cop: the bloody NYPD riot of 1857

New York’s police department got its official start in 1845. Before then, night watchmen guarded the city.

Known as coppers (from the star-shaped copper shield each officer wore in lieu of a uniform), these new policemen were up against rising crime and tough street gangs.


They were also regarded as corrupt. So in early 1857, the state passed a law breaking up the city force, the Municipal police, and replacing them with a new organization, the Metropolitan police.

But the Municipals weren’t about to disband. Supported by Mayor Fernando Wood, they continued to patrol the city—while the new Metropolitans took control as well.


Can a city successfully have two police forces, one run by the mayor, the other the state? Not really.

Municipal cops would arrest criminals, only to have them set free by the Metropolitans. Municipals began demonstrating outside Metropolitan stations.

Policeman1896In June, “the state-appointed police commission ordered the arrest of Mayor Wood, on the grounds that he had not complied with the legislative mandate to disband the Municipals,” states

“The next day, the Metropolitans attempted to arrest the mayor at City Hall, defended by scores of Municipals, who had hastily fortified the building.”

On June 18th, a riot among hundreds of men ensued at City Hall (top sketch). The Metropolitans retreated.

All summer, the rivalry between the two forces persisted. Finally in the fall, a state court ruled that the Municipal police had to go.

Mayor Wood disbanded them—but at least the Metropolitans agreed to wear uniforms (in 1871, above, and 1896, left).

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4 Responses to “Cop vs. cop: the bloody NYPD riot of 1857”

  1. Edward Says:

    They wore those uniforms in 1971? I don’t seem to remember the NYPD being that natty =)

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Good catch! If it were up to me, they would still be wearing that style uniform though…none of this knee-length shorts stuff!

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