The NYPD's First Fifty Years: Politicians, Police Commissioners, and Patrolmen

The NYPD's First Fifty Years: Politicians, Police Commissioners, and Patrolmen

The NYPD's First Fifty Years: Politicians, Police Commissioners, and Patrolmen

The NYPD's First Fifty Years: Politicians, Police Commissioners, and Patrolmen


The New York Police Department is an iconic symbol of one of the world's most famous cities. The blue uniforms of the men and women who serve on the force have long stood for integrity and heroism in the work to serve and protect the city's residents. And yet, as in any large public organization, the NYPD has also suffered its share of corruption, political shenanigans, and questionable leadership.

In The NYPD's First Fifty Year's Bernard Whalen, himself a long-serving NYPD lieutenant, and his father, Jon, consider the men and women who have contributed to the department's past, both positively and less so. Starting with the official formation of the NYPD in 1898, they examine the commissioners, politicians, and patrolmen who during the next fifty years left a lasting mark on history and on one another. In the process, they also explore the backroom dealings, the hidden history, and the relationships that set the scene for the modern NYPD that so proudly serves the city today.


I have always been interested in the NYPD, even before I became police commissioner. When I was a young boy, one of my favorite pastimes was reading a book illustrated with pictures of the NYPD called Your Police, by George Zaffo. Years later, when I became police commissioner, I put together an exhibit for the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Municipal Police in New York City. My officers were issued distinctive breast bars to wear above their shields to commemorate the anniversary.

I was intrigued when Lieutenant Bernard Whalen approached me to consider writing the foreword for this book. As I began reading a draft of the manuscript, I realized that he and his father and coauthor, Jon Whalen, had taken a far different approach in telling the story of the department’s early history than any other authors by looking at the relationship among the city’s politicians, the police commissioner, and the patrol force.

As much as policing has changed since 1898, when the five boroughs merged and eighteen separate police departments joined to form the NYPD that we know today, the nature of the work has not changed. The problems with which patrolmen dealt yesteryear are still problems for the police officers of today.

During the fifty-year period this book covers, mayors (often times at the direction of their political benefactors) selected hacks, military men, lawyers, businessmen, career police officers, and, on occasion, outsiders to run the department. Although the police commissioners themselves are not politicians, they are political appointees who need to be politically savvy in order to succeed. Since the position of police commissioner was established in 1901, their tenures have been as short as twenty-eight days and as long as twelve years, but on average they last about three years, even though the term of office is five years. This is because the police commissioner serves . . .

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