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APPOINTED POLICE COMMISSIONER OF NEW YORK CITY
-CORRUPTNESS OF THE DEPARTMENT STRENUOUS
DURING the time that Theodore Roosevelt was a Civil Service Commissioner there were several important political changes made in New York City.
In the past there had been a great deal of what is familiarly called "machine politics," and matters had been going from bad to worse. But now there was an upward turn by the election of William S. Strong to the office of mayor. Mr. Strong was a man of high character, and was elected by a vote that combined the best elements of all the political parties.
It was at a time when New York City was in urgent need of reform. Those in power were doing but little to stop the corruption that was stalking abroad upon
every hand. Bribes were given and taken in nearly all departments, clerks were being paid large salaries for doing practically nothing, and contracts were put out, not to those who could do the best work, but to those who would pay the political tricksters the most money for them.
The record of the police department was perhaps the blackest of the lot. It was to this department that the citizens looked for protection from crime, yet it was known that many in the department winked at all sorts of vice, providing they were properly paid for so doing. Saloons and worse resorts were kept open in defiance of the law, and wickedness flaunted itself in the face of the public in a manner that was truly shocking. Occasionally a private citizen would try to do something to mend matters, but his complaint was generally "pigeon-holed,” and that would be the end of the matter. The rottenness, as it was well called, extended from the highest places in the department to the lowest, so that it was said not even a policeman could secure his appointment without paying several hundred dollars for it, and this he was, of course, expected to
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
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. 6 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