December 2022, Post Trivia – Origins of the PBA

John Young, Patrolman

The newspapers had given them the name “the Black Cavalry” to those who lobbed for the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, back in 1909. The man in Albany was John W. McGloin, who joined the police force on November 20, 1875 and he has been said to be the founder of the P.B.A. He had served as both vice president and its president (1892-97.) He retired in 1908, as a police lieutenant and was given a purse of $20.000 by the force upon his retirement and hired ab the association as their lobbyist in Albany.

The year was 1894, and the reformers and law enforcement groups entered the municipal elections in New York City. It was their fight against the Tammany Hall and the administration that held control of the city since the end of the Civil War. Both of the groups backed the Fusion candidate, William Strong for mayor. One of his first acts after winning the election was to appoint Theodore Roosevelt to be the president of the Police Board of Commissioners.

History repeats itself, as the Fusion ticket led by Rudy Guiliani in 1993 and he appointed another outsider, William Bratton as Police Commissioner. This time, it’s a Boston policeman, with over 28 years experience in law enforcement. He had previously served as Chief of Transit Police (New York) in 1990.

During the 1890s, middle-class New Yorkers took a moral view of government, politics, business- almost everything. One hundred years later, the same type of middle class have a similar views- regarding the death penalty, the homeless, and the issue of abortion. Politics was always considered a dirty business and public service was held in low esteem.

Even the daily newspapers seem to cater to the taste evinced by a certain class of readers and patrons for any sensation derogatory to the police. Even some unscrupulous reporters would manufacture “A Police Outrage” or “Brutal Clubbing Affair” that would horrify the whole community. Several of these stories led to an order by Superintendent Bynres for the removal of a patrolman’s nightstick. Today, they place cops on “modified assignment.”

The patrolmen were recruited from the tenements of New York. Applicants had to be less than 30 years old; a citizen of the United States and a resident of the city for one year; be of spotless character (no conviction for any crime); able to read & write English; and not less than 5 feet, 71/2 inches tall and no more than 138 pounds in weight. I would not have made it! He was to be sound of mind & body and able to pass an examination by the Board of Surgeons.

After the above qualifications, police candidates has to pay a fixed tariff of $300 dollars to their local alderman (now city councilman) for their police position. A sergeant

after passing the civil service test, had to pay $10,000 to $15,000 to become a captain, if he wanted to command one of the 35 police precinct with New York. Brooklyn had not become part of Greater New York until 1898 but they probably had similar payments to their local politicians.

Allegations of police corruption made by commercial and reform organizations in the daily newspapers led the New York State Senate to conduct an investigation into the department in March 1894. This investigation became known as the “Lenow Committee” and they conducted public hearing that eventually led to the indictments of several police captains and their wardmen (detectives.) A number of patrolmen were indicted, but most of them were dismissed by the courts.

The first investigation into the police department also produced some interesting readings, with their 6 volumes, 5,00o llus page publication “Investigation of the Police Department of the City of New York, 1894.” The attorneys for the Lenow Committee” went on to become Supreme Court judge (John Goff) and another, a crusading District Attorney (William Jerome.)

After the year long investigation, every policeman in New York was tainted as being corrupt by the headline seeking politicians and the daily newspapers. It was just like after the Knapp Commission- cops were ether a beef eater (drug money) or a grass eater (free coffee.)

Two events occurred prior to 1894 that led patrolmen in 35 precincts (31 in Manhattan and 4 in the Bronx) to band together and form a benevolent association. First they wanted to help provide some assistance to the families of cops who had died during an epidemic of the grip (influenza), and then there was their dissatisfaction with a police force that gave a pay raise to the bosses. In 1890, the patrolman ‘s salary was $12.000 per year and cops working the two-platoon system- 12 hours of patrol and 6 hours of being in reserve in the precinct station house.

The winter, 1890 had been harsh on the east coast, and there was a prevailing malady among the police force within the city. Nearly every cop came down with the flu, probably due to their long hours of patrol and sleeping in those station house dorms. As reported in the Times, 363 policemen of all ranks reported sick daily during the epidemic and the death of a patrolmen from pneumonia. The 1890 epidemic continued during the early part of the year, and the daily sick reports and deaths increased, especially amongst the rank of patrolman.

The police force had about 3,500 members that were distributed to the 35 station houses within Manhattan and the Bronx. The City of Brooklyn had their own force with 18 precincts and 4 sub-stations in 1887. They had 30 precincts with the merge in 1898. The villages in Queen had their own police forces, namely Long island City, Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, Newton, Jamaica, Richmond Hill and the Rockaways. Staten Island (Richmond County) had its own police department with 4 station houses. They all were consolidated into the New York Police Department in 1898.

The epidemic had a particularly disastrous effect upon the force, with many members contracting tuberculosis and some eventually dying without any benefits. The cops just passed the hat to raise funds and keep their comrades from going to a potter’s field and to provide some money for their usually young and large families.

There had been an earlier attempt to provide death benefits with the Police Mutual Aid Association (formed in October 1866), but a high dues assessment caused it break up in the 1880s. The association started when the Metropolitan Police Department (1857-70) walked the streets of New York. Most New York members pulled out of that association,

A Metropolitan Police Benevolent Burying Association (esta. 1871) was started to provide benefits for members of the Metropolitan Police, but the city fathers under Boss Tweed restored the Municipal Police Force. The association has purchased Section 18, Cypress Hill Cemetery (1872-73) and had ownership of 500 plots in the cemetery. The original cemetery deeds were found behind the safe at the P.B.A. Office during a clean-up after the bombing. It appears that they had fallen behind the safe.

In 1894, the board of the burying association included the Superintendent, T.F. Byrnes (President), Inspector John McKellay, Brooklyn (Vice President), Inspector Peter Conlin (Treasurer), and Captain Joseph Eakins (Sec’y) and its Executive Committee that Consisted of Inspector Alexander Williams, Captain Moses Cortright and Captain James Campbell (Brooklyn.)

Back in the 1890s, patrolmen were not buries in Cypress Hill unless they were members of that association and it appears that the organization was under the control of Former members of the Metropolitan. For some reason, many of the cops were of the opinion that the burial of a fellow policeman was a disgrace to the members of the force. I visited Cypress Hill Cemetery back in 1994 and found that most of the plots have never been used. Probably less than 20 internments, if memory serves me right!

Presently the police cemetery is under the control of the Police Department’s Honor Legion, and has been since 1951 when the active members of the Metropolitan Police Burying Association voted to turn over to the Honor legion. I know at one time, they were selling plots at Cypress Hill.