Commissioner Roosevelt

“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

Today in History, May 6, 1895:

Theodore Roosevelt is sworn in as the President of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City, effectively, the Police Commissioner. That’s right, TR was a cop. He instituted numerous policies to root out corruption in the city’s police department, making several enemies along the way. Officers on the beat grew used to Commissioner Roosevelt showing up at all hours of the day and night. The corrupt officers hated him; the honest officers loved him. He was tireless and relentless, a trait his family was well aware of, and that the national politicians were soon to become well acquainted with.

At this point in his storied life, Roosevelt had “built his body” as a sickly child, successfully completed studies at Harvard, traveled Europe, become a NY state legislator, lost his mother and wife the same day after the birth of his daughter, and secluded himself to the Dakota Territory in grief.  While in the west he took on his persona as a “cowboy”, having chased and captured thieves, fought in barroom fights, raised cattle, and hunted frequently.

NYC was TR’s hometown, and when he got the job as Police Commissioner he was driven to rid not only the police department but the city of it’s rampant corruption.  He would make “Midnight” walks around the city, catching officers sleeping or taking solace in the bawdy houses.  He also worked against real corruption within the department, making enemies.

Roosevelt also took steps to provide the officers training, firearms and equipment they’d never had before, intent on making them into a professional agency.  These efforts won him many fans within the rank and file.

One of his less popular actions…obviously a mistake…was when he ordered all of the houses of liquor closed on Sunday.  The only problem is that the high society Roosevelt did not realize working class German and Irish voters worked 6 days a week…Sunday was their only day to “throw one back.”

Of course after his adventures on NYPD Roosevelt went on to be Under Secretary of the Navy where he helped build a modern force, the Colonel of the Rough Riders in Cuba, NY Governor, Vice-President, President, and then adventurer and hunter.

You never know what will be the final epitaph or testimonial for someone.  To this day it can be argued whether Theodore Roosevelt was more hated or more loved by the officers he worked with.

However a chance encounter at his funeral near Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY in January of 1919 proves TR’s influence for me.

As the mourners trailed out after the service, a Police Captain stopped Roosevelt’s sister, Corinne.  It had been nearly a quarter century since the man had worked for “The Commissioner.”  Do you know how much time hardens a policeman?  The Captain was in tears, overcome.

“Do you remember the fun of him, Mrs. Robinson?  It was not only that he was a great man, but, oh, there was such fun in being led by him!”

The Crusading Commissioner

Today in History, May 6: 1895 – A former New York State Assembleyman who had been serving in DC of late is sworn in as a NYC Police Commissioner; one of several on the board. He would quickly be voted to be the President of the Police Commission.  Notably, he served on the commission with Frederick Dent Grant, son of former General and President US Grant. 

Theodore Roosevelt was out to make a name for himself, but also do some good; reform minded in light of recent events in the NYPD. 

He soon became a scourge for the officers as he began to conduct frequent walks through the streets at night, finding officers asleep or spending their time in bars rather than on patrol.  He also worked to weed out corruption, finding himself at odds with those that padded their salaries with bribe money. 

Roosevelt also found allies amongst those who appreciated his efforts not only for reform, but also to provide much needed training and equipment for the officers who wanted a more professional agency to emerge. 

He made a huge mistake in attempting to enforce a law in which bars must be closed on Sundays. Immigrants in the city worked 6 days a week, with only Sunday off to socialize and drink. The backlash cost TR’s Republican party in the next elections. 

Roosevelt would also be shaped during his midnight patrols and other tours. He would see the squalor that many lower income families endured, which would help drive his battles for better working conditions as President. 

Roosevelt would spend two years as NYPD Police Commissioner. The whirlwind that was his life would continue.  Back to DC as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, where he would drive the building of a 20th Century force, the Rough Riders and Cuba, Governor of NY, Vice President, then President…all by Sept 1901.