Posts Tagged ‘NYPD’

The green lanterns outside city police precincts

October 24, 2013

Policelights10thprecinctWhether the precinct house is old or new, all New York police stations should have two green lights flanking their entrance.

There’s a story explaining why, and it has to do with the first men who patrolled New Amsterdam in the 1650s.

Peter Stuyvesant established an eight-member “rattle watch” who were “paid a small sum to keep an eye on the growing, bustling town,” and look out for pirates, vagabonds, and robbers, according to one source.

PolicelightsninthprecinctThe rattle watchmen carried green lanterns over their shoulders on a pole, like a hobo stick, so residents could identify them in the dark, unlit streets.

“When the watchmen returned to the watch house after patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show people seeking the watchman that he was in the watch house,” states this NYPD recruiting website.

Policelightsqueens“Today, green lights are hung outside the entrances of police precincts as a symbol that the ‘watch’ is present and vigilant,” explains the NYPD site.

The top two photos show the relatively modern green lights of a Chelsea police house, on West 20th Street, and the Ninth Precinct on East Fifth Street in the East Village.

The loveliest old police lantern I’ve ever seen has to be the one outside the 108th Precinct in Hunters Point, Queens.

The facade of the station house is currently undergoing construction, so my photo (left) of the cast-iron, crica-1903 lantern doesn’t do it justice. Luckily Forgotten New York has a much better shot here. It’s a beauty!

Cop vs. cop: the bloody NYPD riot of 1857

August 29, 2013

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).

“New York’s Bicycle Policemen”

September 15, 2010

Before there were cop cars and surveillance cameras, NYPD patrolmen walked their beat or kept an eye out via bicycle. 

“Bicycles a great help,” reads a New York Times headline from 1896. The story goes on to cite their use in catching runaway horses and preventing cyclists from reckless riding. “More bluecoats a-wheel recommended by the head of the force to the police board.”

This group of bike police, from an 1899 NYPL photo, looks ready to ride.

Remembering a pioneer of the NYPD

April 4, 2009

Robert H. Holmes wasn’t the first African-American hired by the New York City Police Department; that would be Samuel J. Battle, initially rejected by the NYPD in 1910 and then accepted in 1911, serving almost 40 years.


 Holmes joined the NYPD after Battle, appointed to the 38th Precinct in Harlem in 1913. 

He served only four years. On August 6, 1917, he was shot and killed by a burglar he’d chased into the hallway of a tenement at 14 West 138th Street. Struck five times, Holmes died at the scene.

“The dead policeman was known and feared by every criminal among the 70,000 negroes in Harlem, and was the hero of the law-abiding element, ” The New York Times wrote the next day. “. . . when word spread that Holmes had been shot, the flat houses of the vicinity poured out crowds that choked the street, and eventually had to be dispersed by the reserves.”

When the Guardian Angels patrolled New York

September 26, 2008

Back in the down-and-dirty 1980s, the Guardian Angels walked New York City’s streets and subways, a uniformed crime-fighting presence that made citizen’s arrests and sometimes crossed the line into vigilantism, according to some NYPD officials. 

Founder Curtis Sliwa and then-wife Lisa—pictured in this East Village Eye photo from 1983—split in the 1990s. But the Guardian Angels still exist, albiet with a much smaller presence in the city. Perhaps when New York goes bad again, the T-shirt and beret–clad Angels will be back in full force.