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get back by blackmailing those who lived or did business on his beat. And get it back the policeman would, even if he had to make an Italian fruit dealer pay him a dollar a month for having a stand on the sidewalk, where the walk was supposed to be free from obstruction.
When William Strong came into office, the first thing he did was to cast his eyes about him for reliable men who might aid him in purifying the city. He already knew of Theodore Roosevelt's work as an assemblyman and a Civil Service Commissioner.
“Mr. Roosevelt is just the man to take the office of Police Commissioner and put the department on an honorable basis,” said the newly elected mayor, and he lost no time in tendering the office to Mr. Roosevelt. The tender was accepted, and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into his new position on May 24, 1895.
The appointment of Mr. Roosevelt to the office of Police Commissioner was a great shock to nearly the entire police department. He was known for his sterling honesty, and it was felt that he would not condone crime in any shape or form.
“There will be a grand shaking up,” said more than one. “ Just you wait till he gets to the bottom of things. He'll turn the light on in a way that will make more than one officer tremble in his boots."
On the Board with Mr. Roosevelt were Andrew D. Parker, Avery D. Andrews, and Frederick D. Grant, the latter the son of former President Grant. Theodore Roosevelt was chosen president, and the Board lost no time in getting to work.
“ The new Board found the department in a demoralized condition,” says Mr. Roosevelt, in his report on the matter. “A recent grand jury had investigated the records of many officers, and many indictments had been found ; 268 vacancies existed in the department, and 26 officers, including one inspector and five captains, were under suspension on account of indictment for crime.” This was truly a sad state of affairs, and a horrible example to the other large cities of our Union.
The Commissioners went to work with a will, and Theodore Roosevelt was the leading spirit in every move made. Every branch of the police department was given
an overhauling, and those who would not do their duty were promptly dismissed, while minor offences were met with heavy fines. By an act of the legislature the force of men was increased to eight hundred, to keep pace with the growth of the metropolis. The men who were particularly faithful in the discharge of their duties were rewarded by honorable mention, engrossed certificates, medals of honor, and by promotions. More than this, they were given to understand that if they did their duty faithfully they need not fear trouble from those over them, no matter what changes were made. No officer was allowed to accept blackmail money from those lower in the service; and above all, no politics were to interfere with the fair and square running of the whole department.
It was a gigantic task, and it cannot be said that it was totally successful, for the opposition in some quarters was strong. More than once Mr. Roosevelt was threatened with violence, but, as when an assemblyman, he paid but scant attention to these mutterings.
His habits of personally investigating
matters still clung to him, and it is well remembered how he went around at odd hours of the day and night, and on Sundays, seeing if the policemen were really doing their duty. There had been a boast that all policemen were at their posts at night. Mr. Roosevelt went out once and found just two out of an even dozen where they should be. Then began that “shaking up” that has resulted in better police service in New York to this day.
The effect of the new vigor in the police department was felt in many other ways. There was a tenement-house law regarding buildings which were unfit for human habitations. New York City was crowded with such buildings, but nobody had ordered them torn down, because either nobody wanted to bother, or the owners paid blackmail money to keep them standing for the rent they could get out of them.
“Those tenements must come down," said Theodore Roosevelt. “ If
you order them down, the owners will fight you to the bitter end,” said another officer of the department.
“I don't care if they do. The houses are
a menace to life and health. They are filthy, and if a fire ever started in them, some would prove regular traps. They have got to go.” And shortly after that about a hundred were seized, and the most destroyed.
The enforcement of the Sunday liquor law was another thing that occasioned great surprise during Mr. Roosevelt's term as Police Commissioner. In the past, saloons had been almost as wide open on Sundays as on week days. On account of the cosmopolitan character of the population it was thought that to close up the saloons on Sundays would be impossible. But the police force was given strict orders, and on one Sunday in June, 1895, New York City had the first “dry” Sunday that it could remember in many years.
This “dry” Sunday provoked a new storm of opposition, especially from many of foreign birth, who were used to getting liquor as easily on that day as on any other. More threats were made against the vigorous commissioner, and on two occasions dynamite bombs were placed in his desk, evidently with the hope that they would explode and blow him to pieces. But the bombs