The annual parade of “New York’s Finest” was filmed on June 1, 1899, in Union Square. At the turn of the century, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was still recovering from scandals and allegations of corruption that tarnished its reputation in the 1890s. Four years earlier, the New York State Senate created a committee to investigate the department. The Lexow Committee issued a scathing report detailing serious criminal activity within the organization.
The New York Municipal Police was founded in 1845 with an initial force of 900 men. Nearly 400,000 people lived in New York City (NYC) around that time. The municipality was overwhelmed by expanding slums, a high rate of crime, and frequent rioting. Looking toward London for solutions to its policing problems, the city adopted reforms similar to those that Sir Robert Peel had instituted in 1829. In 1845, uniformed officers operating under a chain of command, replaced the outdated constable system the Dutch had established in seventeenth-century Manhattan.
However, immense challenges remained. Police officers served only one- or two-year tours of duty, and order and continuity suffered accordingly. Jobs as police officers, like almost all public service work in nineteenth-century New York, were awarded based on cronyism and political patronage. Meanwhile, the social problems that prompted the 1845 reforms increased as the population swelled past the one million mark in the 1870s.
With public disapproval of the force running high, the annual police parade was cancelled in 1895. That same year, Theodore Roosevelt was appointed president of the Police Commission. He initiated strict and effective reform measures that helped restore public confidence in the department. During his two-year tenure, Roosevelt recruited some 1,600 officers based on their ability to serve rather than their political loyalties. In addition, he opened admission to the department for ethnic minorities and hired the first woman ever to work at NYC’s police headquarters.
Today, the NYPD is one of the largest municipal police departments in the United States. Its jurisdiction encompasses New York City’s five boroughs, and covers an area of about 320 square miles. More than 37,000 uniformed officers work to keep the “City that never sleeps” safe.
- Explore forty-five films of turn-of-the-century New York City. Browse the title list of the collection Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906. Move On and New York Harbor Police Boat Patrol document the police in action.
- Learn the comic song “The Finest Police in the World!” Search the collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 on police to find this tongue-in-check air.
- Take a virtual tour of New York City through time. Search across the collections of prints and photographs on New York City to view images of the metropolis.
- View specially delegated New York City mounted police guards in 1919 at Theodore Roosevelt’s Funeral in Oyster Bay, New York. This film is from Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times. To see more, search this collection on the keywords police or New York and find, for example, Teddy Roosevelt in 1917 as he Reviews and Addresses Troops and Rides in an Auto Parade.
- Search Today in History on Theodore Roosevelt to read about his political and personal life.
- The online exhibition, Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress provides an overview of the materials collected. One item highlighted in the exhibition is the cover of a comic book issue devoted to September 11.
- The American Memory collection, September 11, 2001: Documentary Project contains materials in all formats including an audio interview with NYPD transit officer Carol Paukner.
- The Library’s pictorial collections includes over one million images. A search on September 11 2001, returns a selection of photos, drawings, posters, comic book art, and other items.
- Web sites created by a variety of sources tracked daily events. These ever-changing sites were captured through collaborative efforts and are accessible through the September 11, 2001 Web Archive.
- People expressed themselves in a variety of ways including born-digital works such as e-mails, images, and online diaries. These items were submitted via the Internet to The September 11 Digital Archive External, another collaborative project.