Today in History

Today in History: June 1

New York's Finest

New York police parade, 1899
Police Parade, New York, New York,
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., June 1, 1899.
Life of a City: New York, 1898-1906

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.

Police Officers
Group of Policemen in Front of Police Station (detail),
Copyright W. O. Lewin,
1909.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

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 In 1845, uniformed officers operating under a chain of command, replaced the outdated constable system the Dutch had established in seventeenth-century Manhattan.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.

Police Officer
Officer Richard Perry Practices Basic Spanish (detail),
Dick DeMarsico, photographer,
1958.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Use American Memory and other Library of Congress resources to learn more about the NYPD and the City they serve:

On September 11, 2001, New York City, the NYPD, New York City Fire Department (FDNY), and other emergency response teams faced unprecedented challenges from a devastating terrorist attack. In response to this and other acts of terrorism on that day, the Library of Congress initiated a massive effort to record and gather for posterity an extensive array of materials documenting these events as well as responses and reactions worldwide. Access to these materials through several online collections provides the opportunity to experience the resolve and emotions of those who were directly involved and those who watched events unfold.

The Internet played a significant part in all of the events related to this tragedy.

  • 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 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, another collaborative project.