written by R.Ruiz
“It has been charged and maintained that the police department of the city of New York is corrupt”. The preceding is not another headline from any recent media but the opening statement in a nearly one hundred year old document that unfortunately still rings very true today. The New York City Police Department is the first of it’s kind in America, the gold standard for municipal policing in our country. It’s model, originally adopted from the Metropolitan Police Service in London has been emulated and duplicated throughout the country. Today we are faced with increased racial tensions either segregating or completely eradicating poor/ethnic communities, an overwhelming disregard for police brutality, and above all a frightening disregard for human life. The police force in America was never established to enforce law and order but rather separate the poor from business affairs, protecting millionaire assets and performing favors for the upper echelon of the city’s elite.
In 1844, at the request of the city council then known as the common council, the Municipal Police Act was drafted. In 1845 after cutting through reams of bureaucratic tape the nation’s first professional police force was created. The department was created largely with the intention of limiting the federal government’s role in everyday city life. There was an inherent mistrust towards a standing army in a city built on an island. But more importantly officials believed it was vital that municipal services like law enforcement be accessible to the people.
New officers were appointed to one year terms by their district aldermen. Many poor, uneducated and family burdened young men saw this as an opportunity to try and gain favor amongst their peers. There was never a task too incredulous during these times. The aldermen or councilmen by today’s terms had an infinite supply of ballotstuffers, looters, kill-for-hire’s, bootleggers and bodyguards at their fingertips. During the days of Tammany’s sway it was said the Boss Tweed used his “Crushers” to block off the room where the election ballots were counted. Two uniformed men would stand guard at the door under strict order to not let anyone out until they’ve reached the number that satisfied the Boss.
Because political clout was the only way to ensure a successful career under the Democratic machine’s reign, policemen were constantly vying for new business opportunities. The capitalist ideal was practically embedded into the foundation of the force. Rewards were giving to those who maintained a ticket quota, recovered stolen goods or even helped out friend’s of Tammany Hall.
On April 25, 1970 the New York Times ran an article titled “Graft Paid to Police Here Said to be into Millions”. 75 years after the Lexow committee held its first trial, journalist David Burnham outlined the sordid dealings our men in blue were allegedly engaged in. Drug dealers, gamblers and businessmen alike were all apart of a long list of individuals being extorted by the department. In exchange for hefty bribes, much like the mafia during most of the twentieth century, policemen offered protection against other precincts or agencies. For the second time since it’s foundation the force is publicly scrutinized and labeled as “Corrupt”.
Nearly one hundred years after the “Report and proceedings of the Senate Committee” had been submitted, New York’s police force had remained the same. The city’s opium dens were replaced with crack houses, the tenements of the five points had all been cleared. Now it was the destitute slums under the Bruckner Bridge that rich people avoid. There was a significant impact on society. The seeds of distrust had once again been sown. Disillusion set in and crime was rampant. Murder rates had hit an all time high, 2,245 that year. Hope had practically disappeared. In 1990 the city made its final plea to then mayor, David Dinkins. “DO SOMETHING!!!”
Today, America’s police departments are a much larger, better trained and seemingly more professional force than that of the mid 1800’s but what does that mean exactly? In June 2016, Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara released a statement against the city’s police, “Corruption is rife in a lot of institutions in New York and throughout”. The accusation comes amidst an avalanche of fatal police shootings, political back room deals and a large gift for favor scheme involving some of the departments highest ranking officers.
Countless hours have been dedicated to investigative committees. Teams have been assembled, dismantled and reassembled to no avail. History has shown us that a successful prosecution of corrupt cops is extremely rare and almost always a drawn out affair. Unfortunately, the appearance of the law must always be upheld… especially while it’s being broken.