May 2019, Post Trivia – The Conflict Days: 1900-1958

May 2019
Post 13 Trivia John Young, Patrolman
The Conflict Years: 1900-1958

Back in the beginning, the PBA was a fledgling organization as nothing came easy for New York City cops. In those days they had to fight their own bosses and the politicians for things we regard as basics, like the three platoon system and other benefits dictated by common decency. In those turbulent days, the PBA was led by William Drennan (1902), a cop from the 19th Precinct (Old Tenderloin), and his co-delegate, Cornelius Willemse. These were two colorful characters you would never hope to encounter.

Willemse, a Dutchman and bouncer/bartender, joined the Department in 1900. He claimed his appointment cost him nothing because of civil service, and he was promoted to captain. Willemse was a fiery orator who stirred up the troops with the cry, “Are you slaves or are you free men?” His exploits, in both word and deed attracted support for the policeman’s plight – persuading most newspaper editors to favor a three-platoon system. The city’s Evening Journal carried a coupon which readers could sign and mail in to the powers-that-were. On one occasion, his heroics were responsible for recruiting a very influential and ardent supporter. Rear Admiral Miller, a retired naval admiral whose wife was rescued from a Park Avenue fire by Willemse, helped him scare up thousands of votes on the cops’ behalf.

In the early years, several other groups were formed which competed with the PBA membership. Among them were Patrolman’s Endowment Association, the New York Police Endowment Association, the Clerical Patrolman’s Association (representing desk jockeys, their words), the Veteran Police Association, the Brooklyn & Queens Police Mutual Aid Association, and the Mutual Police Association.

It was the election of Joseph Moran that brought stability to the association, and he became widely known as the “spokesman for the men in blue.” Moran promised and delivered a new constitution and by-laws, drafted in 1914. He believed that the success of an organization depended in large measure upon the moral of its members. He wrote, “The rank-and-file of an organization who know what they want, who are willing to use fair and honorable means to get it, who are careful and conscientious in selection of its executives and gives them confidence as long as they deserve it – such a rank-and-file insures the utmost degree of success possible under any given set of circumstances. The patrolmen of the City of New York constitute a body of this type.”

The Moran Era saw unprecedented, undreamed progress, including pension revision in the form of Article 1, Police Pension System (full pay after 35 years), and the end of the reserve system that destroyed health and family life. A patrolman’s salary increased from $1,450 to $3,000 per year, and the department’s membership rose from 9,387 to 16,653.

It should be mentioned that firemen were paid less than patrolmen ($2700 compared to $3000) until 1928. The city had looked into a three-platoon system for firemen, as they were working their two-platoon system (84 hours) since 1922. If they went to the three-platoon system, the city would have to hire another 1200 firefighters. It was cheaper to increase their salary by $300.00 then hire more firemen. In 1939, firemen went to a 50 hour week. Now firemen work 2088 hours with their 9 hour day tour and their 16 hour sleep-over at the firehouse and sit-down dinner.

Joe Moran and the PBA survived several mayors and police commissioners, as well as competing police groups and associations. In 1925, Moran helped establish the New York State Police Conference, in which the PBA remained a member until 1981.

Remember your first PBA card? Those paper cards changed colors yearly and had a silver shield and your shield number. The reverse side showed member’s name, command and dues payment record that was collected by the precinct delegate. Those were the days before “dues check-off” that was won by all municipal unions in the early 1960s. Names of PBA Board Officer first appeared on 1977 cards.

As the 1930’s dawned, the police department, like the country, hit hard times. The Seabury Investigations led to corruption charges and the strategy that continues to this day, as the PBA took out full-page newspaper advertisements defending its members. Because of this, certain politicians tried to have PBA leadership brought up on violation charges of the department’s Rules & Regulations. Today, it would be the Patrol Guide.

To compound the miseries of that period, Mayor John Walker proposed a voluntary pay cut for all city employees in reaction to the city’s financial crises resulting from the national Depression. In January 1933, a patrolman’s salary was reduced from $3,000 to $2,810 a year. This was followed in July of 1934 with a “furlough reduction” that, in effect, cut wages to $2,704. It took three years to get the salary back to $3,000. When I joined the department in 1964, a family friend who retired in 1958 told me that cops never got the money they were promised by the city’s fathers during the Depression.

Moran left office in 1938. He was followed by Joseph Burkhard (1938), Patrick Harney (1941), Ray Donovan (1946), John Carton (1947), and John Cassesse (1958). It was John Cassesse that turned the PBA into a labor union.

If the years of the Walker administration were sad ones for cops, the years under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia were downright depressing. The police force during his 12 year regime (1934-45) suffered more pay cuts and a revised pension system (Article II, 1940) that decreased a cop’s take home pay and a reduced force. A policy of attrition was started, as men retired or were drafted into the armed forces. They were not replaced. LaGuardia favored firemen, going so far as to exempt them from the draft during World War II.

During this period, a probationary patrolman’s salary was reduced from $2,000 to $1,200 a year, while a full-fledged patrolman still made $3,000, annually. The wage war between the city and the PBA lasted several years, and led the association to promote the practice of signing paychecks with the words “Under Protest” beneath their signature. That ritual was continued until the early 1980’s by most members of the department.