The New York Times/Carl Schurz on Police Reform

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Carl Schurz on Police Reform

From The New York Times of December 11, 1894.


In a Letter to Charles Stewart Smith He Outlines
a Plan for Sifting Out the Bad
Element with Legislative Aid.

Charles Stewart Smith of the Chamber of Commerce has received the following letter from Carl Schurz in reference to the reorganization of the police force of New-York City:

My Dear Mr. Smith: I respond with pleasure to your kind note asking me to repeat to you the substance of the suggestion I recently made to you concerning the reorganization of the police force of the City of New-York.

It seems to me that the two problems — that of reconstructing the police force so as to sift out its bad elements and to replace them with good material and that of giving it a permanent head to direct and command it in the performance of its ordinary duties — should be kept separate and distinct.

Having only the first of these problems in view, I suggested to you that a law should be enacted creating a commission to consist of three or five eminent citizens to be named in the act, for the only purpose of reconstructing the police force within a certain time — say two years — the commission then to go out of existence; the act to provide further that at a certain time, some twelve or eighteen months after the date of the enactment, the tenure of all the members of the police force, of whatever grade, shall cease; that those of them who wish to be appointed at the end of that time shall, within a certain period within three or six months after the date of the enactment, make formal application for such appointment; that the character and record of those making such application shall be searchingly inquired into, it being understood that not only the reappointment applied for will depend upon the result of the inquiry, but proper legal proceedings will be instituted in case by the inquiry things are brought to light calling for criminal prosecution. The commission shall have all powers necessary for the conduct of such inquiries, and perhaps also the power to make summary dismissals, and that the appointment of new men to the force shall be governed by strict civil-service rules.

Of course, provisions would also have to be made for an equitable settlement of vested rights acquired by members of the force who are discharged without conviction of guilt.

A plan like this, if prudently carried out, would not suddenly disorganize the police force, but spread its reconstruction over a convenient space of time. It would also, in all probability, have the effect of inducing members of the police force who have anything serious to conceal, instead of provoking an inquiry into their past career by application for a reappointment, to drop out of their positions in the quietest possible manner. It would thus be an automatic clearing process.

At the end of the period set for applications for reappointment the commission would know about how many vacancies would have to be filled twelve or eighteen months ahead, and could without precipitation take measures for filling them under the civil service rules.

These are the principal advantages of the plan which occur to me. It may, on the other hand, have drawbacks that I have not thought of, and I submit it, therefore, with due diffidence. Very sincerely yours,

Pocantico Hills, N. Y., Dec. 8, 1894.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).