Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/May 1912/New York's Ten Thousand
|NEW YORK'S TEN THOUSAND|
By WILLIAM J. ROE
NEWBURGH, N. Y.
FOR many years periodicals which make a point of entertaining timeliness have printed articles concerning the police force of New York City. Very few of these have been flattering, although at times, especially when some novelty of legislation has been inaugurated, or a new and more or less distinguished chief of the department entered upon his duties, they have expressed a guarded hopefulness of better things. But for reasons that to the initiated are sufficiently clear, few of these expectations have been realized; and of late the articles have been either in the nature of reminiscences, or what has come to be called "muck-raking."
The object of this paper is neither to relate incidents—historical or scandalous—and such interest as it may have will be solely of that sort which citizens having the welfare of the city at heart may take in whatever tends towards the establishment and maintenance of permanent good government.
Under our federal system republican principles of representative government are in full force, not only among and between the states, but. in counties, townships, villages and school districts. In all these local interests are directed by local authority, representative government being the prevailing rule. Outside of the large cities authority touches the average citizen but lightly; in fact, in most rural neighborhoods the presence and pressure of legality is felt only once a year when the collector of taxes makes his official existence manifest, or when occasionally some local issue (in this state usually a question of "wet or dry") arises.
But in New York City, a very different condition of things exists. Here a constant need for the law's efficient maintenance surrounds and presses upon both householder and visitor. Rules and regulations, unknown because unnecessary in smaller or thinly settled communities, are here imperative. Questions of common rights, or mutual duties, of order, of sanitation, of the preservation of equality in some directions and of the equitable permission of privilege in others; these, and many more problems in utmost perplexity continually arise, demanding not only cheerful acquiescence from the law-abiding, but the constant strain of that eternal vigilance which is the price that must be paid for liberty.
While it would be uncivil and to a great extent misleading, and might be considered unpatriotic to assert that our republican form of government, so admirable in the nation at large, has in practise broken down in the great cities, calling attention to manifest truth can harm no one, however sensitive; to a very considerable extent New York City is denied one of the first essentials of republicanism—home rule; in many respects it is governed as a conquered province from Albany. Perhaps some—or even all—of these denials are inevitable; at all events they are legal, and the good citizen is bound to submit gracefully, however much he may deplore the fact that some of the most cherished guarantees of democracy are absent in metropolitan life. He may console himself with the knowledge that legislation entirely appropriate to rural neighborhoods is utterly impracticable as applied to a city of nearly five million inhabitants, closely, and in sections stiflingly clustered, of many races and faiths and of countless diversities of habit. Not only do the laws by which the metropolis is governed emanate largely from sources exterior to itself, but these laws are continually changing. Unlike the national administration, which is in essentials simple and comparatively stable, that of the city is extremely complex, the laws which it is the duty of the police to enforce being not only intricate, but are being tampered with and altered continually. The conditions in these respects that have prevailed and still do prevail are sufficiently perplexing to confuse and demoralize almost any body of men on earth; that they have not demoralized further than they have the police force is greatly creditable to their self-control, sagacity and respect for constituted authority.
In order to understand the exact nature of the very radical change which it is my purpose to outline, something in the way of both comparison and contrast between the national and civic administration may well be considered. Especially ought these comparisons and contrasts to be clearly understood between the regular army (the police of the nation) and the police force, which may be considered as the army of the city.
The civilization of the western world, the Teutonic race having been always in the van of progress, has achieved at least one lesson perfectly learned—the deplorable results of irresponsible power and the necessity for those limitations upon the will of an executive to be summed up in one comprehensive phrase—the law. In America, as we know, the limitations have for their source a written constitution, to be interpreted by an unprejudiced judiciary, and directed by congress.
But in the course of the broadening of freedom this curious paradox is disclosed, that while parliaments and congresses have grown continually more and more mindful of the people's will, the strength of the executive of that will has l)een continually enlarged. In the days of the Tudors and Stuarts, the English people, slavishly submissive to the caprices and excesses of monarchy, always stubbornly refused to countenance a standing army. In the early wars in which England was engaged it was seldom that her land forces were better than armed mobs; and until Cromwell trained his Ironsides, hardly anything that at the present day would be called discipline was known. Xow in America the president possesses powers for action greatly exceeding those of any limited monarch, and almost equaling those of an oriental despot. He is not only absolute within limits prescribed by civil law, but he is commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and as such may in certain emergencies suspend or annul the functions of congress and the courts. This is not only theoretical, it was proved during the war-between-the-states to be preeminently practical, notably in the instance of the emancipation of the slaves. The possession of such masterful powers indicates, not at all any peril of "imperialism," so called, but rather an expression of the cordial consent of an enlightened and free people, and the certainty that the law may safely permit a temporary suspension of its own functions, confident that—the danger overpast—these will be resumed without impairment of liberty.
The strong arm of the president of the United States for the enforcement of the laws of the land is the regular army. Note with what remarkable foresight our system was planned to avert the danger that so affrighted our British ancestors. The ordinary civil processes for the quelling of disorder—the sheriff and his posse, constables, police—failing, the state militia are called out; and these all having proved ineffectual, constitutionally recourse is had to the authority of the president and the army. And this force is at once the most masterful and the least domineering. Every now and then—some "radical" having urged more vehemently than ordinary "government ownership of railways," the return outcry voices the fear that the votes of so many employees would be utilized by the chief magistrate "to perpetuate his power." But while there may be a possibility that such fears are genuine, who for a moment associates the idea of politics with an army man? Often in the course of our history some successful general has been seized upon by a political party as an available candidate for the highest office. Almost half our presidents and presidential candidates have been more or less military men. Usually they have been politicians in inverse proportion to their military ability, for the most part perhaps, "Good men weighing so and so many pounds."
Note upon what inflexible principles the army is decreed, constituted, manned, officered and governed. It emanates directly from the people, the people's representatives, by authority and direction of the constitution, permitting it to exist only from congress to congress. But once authorized, or the authorization renewed by renewed appropriations, congress is almost invariably wise enough to refrain from further interference. The art of war is recognized as a metier, a trade, the most exacting and absorbing of professions, demanding not only high technical skill, but for the utmost efficiency power completely within itself, the capacity to act as a unit. So governing the regular force is left to those competent from training and experience to guide it. Watched by a civilian secretary of war, the elements in control are the acts of congress, the articles-of-war, the rules and regulations of the service, and the individual authority, strictly limited and defined, of the officers from the chief-of-staff to the subalterns. The office of a man in commission is for life or during "good behavior"; ordinarily he can be removed only upon specific charges, and these must be proved before a duly constituted court-martial; in any event he may claim the protection of congress. But always these salient facts stand out unqualified—the entire separation of the civil from the military functions—the just jealousy and dominance of the civil power, the freedom within limits of the military, and also the clear line of demarcation between the legislative and judicial functions and those purely and properly executive.
The police force of the city of New York has some points of resemblance to the regular army, and many more where the analogy has no application. A policeman is in fact in hardly any sense a soldier; he is better to be described as a civilian, suitably armed, and clothed with powers and responsibilities relating primarily to the preservation of the peace, and incidentally to the detection of crime, the capture of criminals, the enforcement of the law and the arrest of violators of the law. This force, unlike the army, is the creation almost of yesterday; principles virtually settled as to the national body of armed men, have not as yet taken definite and coherent shape with them. The blundering incident to everything new, raw and tentative, may be traced in the numerous experiments made in compliance with enactments of the state legislature. These have been due mainly to party policy, but sometimes to well-meant ignorance (often miscalled "reform") and sometimes, it is to be feared, to deliberate or even immoral scheming. Sometimes a board of commissioners, all of one party, has controlled the department; sometimes—as at present—a single head, and at one time (1895-97) a so-called bi-partizan board, divided nominally equally between democrats and republicans, was in power. Not even the extraordinary ability of Mr. Roosevelt, chairman of the board, could overcome the obstacle of divided responsibility. He left at least one good trace of his incumbency, the tenacity with which he held to the important doctrine that it was not the province of a commissioner to criticize the laws under which he acted, but to enforce them.
Since then has come the era of the "single head" to the department, a manifest improvement, since it is always better to have one (even a bad) "boss" than many—even many good ones. In fact the "bosses" of New York's police force have seldom been bad—that is, as executives never, it may be said, incapable; even the worst of them could have been wonderfully efficient if he had so chosen. With his views as to the ends to be attained this paper does not deal; to those views he was very loyal. Loyal too, after quite a different fashion, have been the army men who have been in control. But loyalty to an ideal is one thing, leadership in any sphere of activity when the foundation principles are radically defective, quite another. If for no other reason than the complexity and multiplicity of duties devolving upon the head of the department some of these must inevitably be slighted or neglected. The chief-of-police (whatever his title or under whatever code of laws he serves) ought to be free of virtually all routine duty.
But the really radical defect in the plan of organization of the department as applied to the commissioner, the flagrant, vital defect, at odds with all practical efficiency, real strength, and "the eternal fitness of things," is that in his hands are concentrated powers that under the conditions are incongruous, that he combines in his own person executive, legislative and judicial functions. The system in vogue in London, whereby the chief is an absolute autocrat, having power of dismissal without appeal, is better than this. But neither conforms to the requirements of equity; no man should be held—even voluntarily—as another man's vassal, and no American citizen should be deprived of his just right to the final judgment of the courts of his country. Again, as the law stands the commissioner can be removed from office at any time and for any cause or no cause at the will, whim or caprice of either the mayor or the governor. Probably at some future time, if the laws remain as they are, this power of summary removal might not be undesirable; but certainly so insecure a tenure of office does not conduce to discipline. It renders the dignified office of commissioner something very like that of a lacquey, and that not to one master, but to two.
Comparison of the regular army with the police force shows most conclusively that for the latter there should be a legislative body, willing, to the same extent that congress is willing, to abstain from continual interferences, and to be guided largely by expert opinion derived from those who actually do the work and are familiar with practical conditions. Whether this body shall be similar to the old-time board of commissioners, whether the board of aldermen shall assume these duties, or a board constituted upon entirely new lines, these are matters demanding much thought and careful consideration. But, however this legislative body may be constituted, its function should combine those which for the army are now distributed between the war department, with its several bureaus, the general staff and the committees on military affairs of congress. In this way the chief officer of the police force would be called upon for no more than advisory assistance, being left free for the work of supervision and command. As a general in the field, he should have under him an adequate staff, responsible only to him and reporting only to him, and being clothed with powers as his representative. In time of riot or disorder the powers of the chief should be greatly increased; in effect his personal authority, while not extending of course to that of "life and death," should really for the time supersede the civil. To a military man there is something ludicrous in the idea of gentle dealings with a mob. It may be political heresy to say so, but no chief of police should discriminate between a band of murderous ruffians—if you choose avowed brigands—and those—hardly less ruffianly—who use and utilize the striking of honest workingmen for better conditions for purposes of pillage and violence. If a mob knew that the orders were—"Shoot to kill!" unlawful assemblages would quickly become unknown.
So far as discipline goes the police have seldom been other than disciplined. But to impose military discipline upon a policeman is not only impossible except when he becomes part of a battalion or when mobilized to resist and suppress disorder, but is usually quite undesirable. The duties of a patrolman on post are not in the least like those of a private soldier. He is an officer, must be treated as an officer, and his duty must be compared to that of an army officer. He is almost constantly beyond the oversight and control of a superior; he is bound to act by himself and obliged to think for himself. He is not an enlisted man, whose duty is largely that of blind and prompt obedience, but a citizen temporarily bearing arms for a specific and limited purpose.
The method of discovering and applying correct principles applicable to all bodies of men acting under authority to the police force; to do away with improper conditions; to reconcile discrepancies, and to establish the administration of the department upon a stable foundation, ought to be the work of a suitably constituted commission. This commission should be appointed by the governor, or preferably the mayor, under authority of an act of the legislature. This commission ought to be composed in part of graduates of West Point, in part of captains of police in sympathy with the work, the police commissioner, and one or two civilians, of whom one at least should be a lawyer thoroughly versed in municipal affairs. There is an old adage that, "A commission is a noun of multitude which may signify many, but seldom signifying much;" but we have equally good authority that, "In a multitude of counselors is safety."
If not already familiar with the history of the department, it would be the manifest duty of the members of this commission to "read up" the entire subject, making themselves fully acquainted with the progressive steps by which the old-time watchman evolved into the municipal force, that having been displaced by the metropolitan police. They will find a continual rather than continuous progress towards better things in ways of organization, each commissioner having left something tending towards improvement; until, coming to the present time, a degree of practical efficiency is found probably nearly as great as under existing laws the force is capable of attaining.
But the present conditions can not be safely reckoned upon for continuance. The wide-spread and deplorable corruption that at times has disgraced the department may at any election return. The very efficiency, the very decency of the present administration may be the chief factor in bringing about a change far more likely to be for the worse than for the better. The spirit of that notorious and wonderfully able faction that for almost a full century has imposed its malign influence upon New York simply awaits a renewed opportunity. Not even four years of purest political and business methods can so dilute the foulness of the past as to make palatable the promise of the future. Do not mistake my meaning. The contest for good government in New York is not between democrats and republicans, nor is it between a faction of democracy and a coalition of opposed forces; nor is it surely between Tammany Hall and the so-called "better elements." It is in fact a phase of that interminable quarrel between the narrow "Puritan" and the broad "Cosmopolitan" ideas of civic administration; between a too tenuous ideality and practicality; that to legislate for the morals of the citizen, and to enact laws in their nature "sumptuary" will always fail of their high purpose. The limitations of enforcible authority ought to be recognized and never overstepped. The purpose of the police should be confined strictly to the preservation of the peace and the orderly and lawful maintenance of law and order. So long as human nature exists human infirmity will always evade human statutes. Smite vice if you will, but inevitably the harder it is smitten the wider will it be spattered, the more room will it find for contamination; it may be diffused; it can not be annihilated.
With overt crime the record of the department has not been entirely inglorious; but in dealing with the vicious propensities the results have been very far from successful. The reasons are notorious—the men "higher up," even perhaps the man highest up, for political ambition or the profit of the pocket, may have connived at or incited a system of paid-for immunity. At one time there has been extreme laxity, at another rigorous—and sometimes illegal—enforcement of arbitrary and unavailing laws. These concerning such iniquities as the saloons, the social evil and "gambling" in all its numerous forms have changed and fluctuated, capriciously, at the behest or caprice of some "boss," or—what is almost equally deplorable—the urgency of sentimental opinion. It is all iniquitous, or worse, it is ridiculous. Whatever we may think of the "effete civilizations" of continental Europe, these matters have been settled there, not well, that may be admitted, but wisely and prudently, in accordance with human reason recognizing its inability to cope with human instinct.
Although Tammany Hall is readily recognized as "notorious," and has certainly the reputation of having been grossly corrupt, few, it may be said, are aware of the extraordinary strength of that organization or its mastery of the problems of civic science. That it has been almost exclusively a "one-man power" accounts for much of its ascendancy and effectiveness. Left alone, untrammeled by interference from without, it could be counted upon to give to New York city a truly efficient and metropolitan government. For its analogy we may look to the old Mormon hierarchy of Utah. There were found—previous to "gentile" interference—side by side with a custom revolting to humanity's purest sentiment and degrading to civilization, a condition of peace, prosperity and outward decorum almost idyllic. So long as the "latter-day-saint" had his way, he saw to it that the way was made pleasant for everybody. It has been much the same with Tammany during its periods of power; the arts of municipal dominion and those of loot and spoliation have gone hand in hand, and both have been reduced to scientific principles. During every so-called "reform administration" numerous hold-overs from a previous Tammany régime have been retained in office; and it is safe to say that a large percentage of efficiency of both the Strong and Low mayoralties was due to the experience of these men. In fact, if any especially difficult or delicate piece of work was required, it was almost invariably a Tammany "heeler" who was called upon to do it. It was not the high-toned moralist or well-meaning theorist in civics, but the man of practical knowledge. The Tammany man—whatever his faults—was always "on to his job."
This subject—the science and art of municipal government—will be, if not the first, not the least important that the commission will have to investigate. It can find no object-lesson more worthy of attentive study than that furnished by the despised and rejected Tammany. With far-seeing sagacity that institution seeks out and attaches to its service young men who give evidence of abilities—either brilliant or solid. Through the district leaders youths are constantly being taken up, sedulously trained, and given opportunities—some for hard work, and some—the exceptional ones—for real distinction. It is thus that the organization is in great measure recruited and the system perpetuated. Could anything be more masterly? Then do not let us smile at or ignore it; still less revile it; but rather emulate it as to method order to emasculate it as to purpose. Be sure its cohesion is too indurated to become friable by a few years of adversity. The "Tammany tiger," drowsy as he may seem, sleeps with one eye open, never relaxing vigilant watchfulness for the chance to pounce upon the city fang and claw.
In times now somewhat past appointments to positions on the force and promotions therein were managed usually by district leaders, "pull" being largely a substitute for merit, and there was (if common report may be trusted) a price-current for the goods.
The stream of insidious and blighting influence is not to be restrained or diverted by any ordinary counter force, or by any moral suasion; the remedy must be radical, human nature's quality of cohesive habit be overmastered by that stronger habit—also human-natural—of the potency of early training, and that moral health is more "catching" than moral disease. The strength of the power adverse to purity and legality in New York lies in the police force, and that can be purified only by purifying the sources of influence, by a new and totally variant method of selecting aspirants for the shield and baton. It will be necessary to establish a school of instruction—a police cadet academy.
Candidates for admission to this school should be chosen by an examination strictly competitive; the dictum of the political "boss" would be dispensed with, being replaced by the findings of fact as to qualification of the civil service. Some of these qualifications may be stated: book learning, beyond the merest rudiments of "the three r's," should not be exacted; moral character, physical stamina, including suitable height, weight and chest measurement, and "brightness," ought to be the controlling requirements. Strength and bodily endurance should be of a quality to enable the youth to stand the strain of his exacting calling, not only for a time, but all through life until age should disable him. The age limit for admission should be fixed comparatively early; from sixteen to twenty-one would approximate the desirable ages. As to residence, etc., citizenship or that of parents, for one year prior to admission, as well as residence in the state for one year, should be as now required. In estimating character I would suggest an entire overhauling of some of the customary ideas of theoretical reformers; "piety" ought neither to count nor discount; neither the timid (whose pluck can be toned up) nor the "bully" (whose audacity can be toned down) should be barred out. While a mean or contemptible action—and of course conviction of a felony—ought to exclude beyond hope an aspirant, let it not be forgotten that no material is more promising than that found in the pronounced honest "tough." To some this idea may come as a rude shock—that it is educational "heresy." To such, however, the entire change may be shocking.
A number of models exist for the sort of training school contemplated. First and most influential is the Military Academy at West Point. Our regular army is officered in three ways: by appointment of civilians based upon the results of proficiency as determined by an army board; second, from a list of enlisted men and non-commissioned officers found duly qualified; but now mainly (and certain in the near future to be entirely) from the promotion of graduated cadets.
Although West Point has long been in the focus of publicity, and has a certain and very great renown for thoroughness of instruction and the general high average of the material it turns out, few indeed are fully aware of the essential nature of that institution's merit. This consists, not so much in the value of the education—though this ranks with that acquired at the best technical schools—as in the nature and extent of the course of training, influence and discipline. Here young men for four years of the most impressionable time of life are set and held wholly apart from all civil influences of a kind to divert them from the mastery of their profession. The West Point method is exacting to a degree almost cruel in its rigor; so exacting that of any entering class not more than half succeed in being graduated. It teaches—and enforces pitilessly—thoroughness, exactness, responsibility. But more and deeper than this, seldom is felt, except for purposes of instruction, the hand of outward authority. The commandant and his assistants, the "tactical officers," are 'seldom in evidence; for almost all purposes of organization, drill and restraint within regulation limits, the method is self-acting, largely automatic; from the room and tent orderlies to the adjutant and captains, the corps of cadets governs itself.
And this government is not of force, as the idea of compulsion is ordinarily understood. The real governing power is that most potent of moral forces—public opinion. From first to last, in big things and in trivial things, a cadet in matters of duty is always "on honor"; he is bound to report not only others' derelictions, but at certain times and for certain purposes, his own. The severity of the prevalent code may be inferred from the following, taken from a New York daily of July 3 last:
A member of the new class was brought before a court-martial on a charge of making false statements to the officer of the guard.
"Are you chewing gum?" the officer asked. . . . "I am not,"—is said to have replied, and an investigation showed that the answer was false.
This is the first time in a great many years that a cadet has been dismissed from West Point for telling an untruth, and the authorities feel keenly the disgrace.
I imagine that many will find in this instance, not justice, but undue and disproportionate punishment for what they may regard as a trivial offence. To chew gum in ranks is indeed trivial; to lie about it (under the West Point system) simply unpardonable. The West Point man is not better, perhaps, morally than the average of his fellow citizens out of uniform; but the penalty for departure from the right line of conduct is so terrible, so inflexible, as to fasten upon him—if not naturally straight—a mechanical equivalent for straightness that, become habit, tends to render him immune to temptation. Some graduates have gone fatally wrong; but the percentage of such is amazingly small.
Then there is the Naval Academy at Annapolis, whose methods are virtually identical with those of West Point. Both these institutions ought to be visited and much time spent in acquiring the proper point of view. The post-graduate schools of the army should also have some attention paid to them; but more influential will be found the schools for molding the man-in-the-ranks, one of which is at Fort Slocum on Davids Island, near New Rochelle. Still more interesting and instructive will be the training-schools for naval apprentices. Of these there are four, one at Newport, R. I., another at San Francisco, and still others at Norfolk, Va., and at Lake Bluff, near Chicago, while the school for the revenue cutter service, now located at Arundle Cove, Maryland, but to be removed to New London, Conn., will furnish material for study. The navy department has printed an instructive booklet: "The Training of a Man-O'Warsman," well worth attentive consideration.
When the methods of all these, as well as many private institutions, have been carefully examined, and their force and meaning in each particular case been thoroughly digested, then will come the difficult task of application, of deciding as to what shall be included and what avoided in a school for New York's ten thousand. As to the location of the school, undoubtedly it ought to be so situated as to be quite separate and apart from civilian pressure, at least from civilian contamination. At the same time no attempt should be made to effect isolation or undue exclusiveness; on the contrary, proper provision should be made for visitors, relatives of the police cadets and others, and these should be invited to rather than prohibited from acquiring full knowledge of the processes of the institution. The locality selected ought to be within convenient distance from the city, with the view of affording easy access and opportunity for the graduating class (such as is now given during the six months probationary period) of accompanying regular patrolmen on certain tours to gain a practical, first-hand knowledge of actual duty. As a site none could be more suitable than either Wards or Randalls Island, though it is not probable that either—so admirably fulfilling some of the city's greatest needs, by the Manhattan State Hospital on the former and the department of public charities in the latter—could be made available. If the rapid growth of the city were not likely to render Pelham Park unsuitable in the near future, that site could be made to serve the uses of the proposed academy. But this consideration can safely "await the event"; if once the founding of such a school is decided upon and legalized, the rest is bound to follow.
In a paper necessarily so brief nothing more than suggestion can be offered as to the course of instruction. Undoubtedly this should attempt nothing in the way of higher education; but graduates should be thoroughly grounded in arithmetic, perhaps algebra, with a fairly good knowledge of the rudiments of physics. There should be a course in elementary law, and due attention should be paid to American history and geography. But all theoretical studies should be subordinate to the practical essentials. Minute, detailed and constant instruction in "rules and regulations" and in every phase of an officer's duty with practise in "Moot-Courts" ought to be accompanied so far as possible by actual service, especially that in the final year duly authorized service on post should be provided for. Every student would be trained for duty in case of fire and riot, and in the use of motor-cycles, bicycles, and the use and care of horses and equipment. Throughout the course constant daily instruction would be given in infantry drill and the use and care of small arms, and the duties of members of such special squads as the tenement house, the health and boiler squads must be made familiar to all graduates. Much attention would be paid to all forms of athletics and "first-aid" to the injured and ill would be a specialty.
In addition to the general plan of instruction applicable to all, it would be highly desirable to establish special courses, to be taken by those students who distinguish themselves by marked adaptability. While every man should be taught to ride, a few might be selected for extraordinary practise, with a view to positions as mounted men. Every one should have a good general knowledge of "administration," but a certain number might be further instructed in all branches of accounts, bookkeeping, etc. Other branches, such as the bureau of electrical service, could be made the subject of a special course. The theory of "detection of crime" by a competent expert might be taught to a certain number of students in the final year. This is not to cherish the hope of making skilled detectives, such being "born, not made."
The general scheme of the school should, I think, be so planned that from the first everything would tend to the eventual substitution of graduates for civilians as higher clerks, secretaries, etc. The corps of police ought ultimately to be made to contain within itself every element of service, including proceedings similar to courts-martial for trial of delinquents. Perhaps also in the end certain duties now performed by policemen could be more efficiently done by civilian employees. For instance, while a mounted man would always be held rigidly responsible for the health, grooming, etc., of his animal, civilian hostlers, cleaners, etc., might well be employed. In short, though special courses ought to afford room for special talent, and in time the rougher menial duties be relegated to outside hired assistants, every thing should be subordinated to the fitting of a youth to be a police officer. The course of instruction ought to be at least three years, and four would not be too long.
The initial steps in the founding of the School of Police would be by far the most difficult. The experiences at West Point are, however, available. Happy would it be for the city's ten thousand if a man could be found so well equipped as was General Sylvanus Thayer, who served for seventeen years as superintendent of the military academy and to whom its efficiency is almost wholly due. The conditions respecting the police school are in some respects even more onerous, especially that even now about 475 new men join the force annually, a number certain to increase rapidly with the growth of the city. One great advantage enjoyed by cadets is the intimate contact and influence of classes. This would be largely neutralized in the police school unless by a division into battalions, or some similar device, this could be obviated. In the beginning probably a better foundation could be laid for future efficiency by limiting the number of candidates for admission; this number to be increased gradually with each succeeding year.
A change so radical in the mode of admission to the ranks of the force may be safely reckoned upon to encounter adverse and censorious criticism. The very radicalism, subversive as it undoubtedly would be, of all the traditions of the past, would incite to opposition. The epithet "aristocratic," and that other phrase, a potent shibboleth to fanatical conservatism—" not close to the people," will find its opportunity. Political opposition, too, may be counted upon, certainly from the "machines," probably from even the free-lances. From the less thoughtful of the force itself may be anticipated, not so much opposition as ridicule and a certain good humored contempt. It is not difficult to imagine that in precinct station houses, members off post, particularly the younger, more flippant and "smarter," will be found indulging in considerable hilarity over the proposed innovation. But (as Victor Hugo says) "He who drains a marsh must expect to hear the frogs croak." Much, doubtless, could be done among the older and wiser officers to offset this feeling. Certainly at the outset the endeavor should be made to acquire their interest and sympathy and cordial assistance in establishing and promoting the new order. This may be found not as difficult as it now appears; at heart the vast majority of men greatly prefer clean ways to foul. Men grow trustworthy by being trusted.
Nevertheless, the first of the classes to be graduated, and the members of the school's senior class who would be taught by actual practise on post, must expect to encounter something not unlike "hazing." But we may be sure that graduates will be quite able to hold their own; they will have been taught how to do that. And they can console themselves for any slight contumely by the reflection that theirs is not an isolated case. Even to-day the young West Pointer on joining his regiment finds himself often sadly at a loss in many practical ways of the service, in which the old sergeants of twenty years or more standing are easily his superiors. So far as they dare and as army discipline permits they will "put up jobs" on these commissioned youngsters. When in the forties of the last century the naval academy was instituted at Annapolis, the old sea-dogs, ancient vikings who had worked their laborious way upward to a commission, had no few or gentle Jibes for midshipmen and ensigns who, as it was said, "had crawled into the service through the cabin windows." All that sort of talk has long ago been ended; our navy is officered now by graduates, and the Deweys and Schleys and Sampsons and Evanses have proved themselves no unworthy successors of the Decaturs and Perrys, the Porters and Farraguts. So I am confident the young graduated police officer will have it in him to say: "Damn the torpedoes! Go ahead!"
It is not, I think, difficult to forecast the nature of the results that—though perhaps slowly—would modify and in the end entirely subvert those evils that have smirched and defiled New York. There would be abundant criticism; but it may be assumed that every good citizen and the powers of the daily press would stand for fair play. As class after class was added to the blue ranks it would not be long before the influence of the increasing number of graduates would begin to be felt. It would be seen and noted in rapidly decreasing number of charges, trials and dismissals, and in the lessening disproportion between arrests and convictions.
Doubtless objection will be made on account of the extra cost of the proposed school and the length of time that must elapse before any very marked benefit could be perceived; but surely if the principle is right a few years devoted to preparation ought not to prevent or postpone action. The prudent investor looks less to the pretty architecture of the home that he proposes to purchase than to the conditions unseen or underground—the drains and sanitary plumbing. The effects of education are in the end certain and salutary. Good habits acquired at the proposed institution in youth will form character not lightly to be flung away in manhood, the sort of character over which the smirch and stain of temptation shall inevitably lose its power. The roundsman's vocation should be dignified, his service compared with that of the army officer, for both are keepers of peace. To the officers of the regular army the Chepultepecs and El Caneys and Indian and Malay ambuscades come seldom, and when they come bring glory with them. But the policeman's duty is done in obscurity and the dark. For him there is but trifling applause and never any brevets. He is always on the firing line, always liable to lead a forlorn hope; the revolver of burglar or anarchist is always imminent, the stiletto of some murderous swarthy ruffian or the bludgeon of one of the gas-house or car-barn gang.
What a splendid record is theirs! One needs only to read the story of those dreadful days of the mid-summer of 1863 to feel the blood tingle and thrill. The names of Kennedy and Acton, McCredie and Walling and Carpenter stand high on honor's roll. Then in July, 1871, under Superintendent Kelso, how gallantly those police detachments guarded the stout-hearted Orangemen down Eighth Avenue amid a howling mob. And when the throng, grown truculent, hurled missiles—though Irish Eoman Catholics almost to a man—those brave fellows never stopped to reflect upon their sympathies, but fell upon the rabble, clubbing right and left. Happily the forty years have shorn the "seditious cries" of "Orange and Ribbonmen" of their venom. We "have done with a worn-out tale, the tale of an ancient wrong"; but I know of nothing in history's annals more heroic, more significant of devotion to duty; the incident deserves to be recorded with the exploits of Goliad and the Alamo.
From these and like constant and common perils has arisen in the police force a certain well-defined esprit de corps of bravery and devotion that goes far—very far indeed—to redeem the "graft," so long a menace and a shame, and the rank perjury that (largely from a mistaken sense of comradeship) has so often covered up offenses.
If, then, one common right impulse may so prevail that there is not a shirk or coward on the force, is it not highly probable that other high impulses may be made also to prevail—that to lie and to steal may become as impossible as to fear?
There will be those who will say that this is impracticable, too tenuous, too idealistic. Fortunately there is at hand an example of a similar result of early education, of influence and environment having stamped upon human nature in process of development an enduring effigy of honor's highest standard. At the outbreak of the war between the states, while with rarest exceptions every southern civilian, and virtually every student at a northern university, "went with his state" most of them to join the insurgent army, one hundred and sixty-two West Pointers, being graduates from the seceded states—full half of those in the regular army appointed from the south—withstanding the claim of home ties and the call of the blood, stood by the union and the flag. On this long roll of honor the most illustrious was George H. Thomas of Virginia—the "Rock of Chickamauga." It is not necessary to impugn the motives of those other gallant gentlemen whose ideas of "state rights" differed from ours that we salute and dip the colors to loyalty like this.
- ↑ Charter of the City of New York, Chapter VIII., Police Department.