Post 13 Trivia – Back When!
John Young, Patrolman
After last month’s column, I received an email from life member Nicholas Walsh, who wanted to share some police nostalgia. Nick’s academy class (11/1/55) was the first to wear the standard gray recruit jackets. Prior to buying the jackets, recruits wore long overcoats or short waist coats. In addition, they wore a department issued armband with the lettering POLICE printed on it. Nick said that they looked like Cox’s Army.
The academy was located on Hubert Street in Manhattan, but physical education classes were held in the Armory, next to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Morning classes were held at Hubert Street which meant you were given two hours to eat and get to Brooklyn for PT classes.
The East 20th Street Police Academy opened in 1964. I believe that the October 1964 class was sworn in at Hubert Street, while my class (December 1964) was the first to complete their introduction to police work on East 20th Street. Today’s recruits travel to a billon dollar state-of-the-art academy located in College Point/Queens (opened December 2015). Recruits still travel to Rodman’s Neck/Bronx (range) and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn (driver’s training). Is there parking around the new academy?
Nick spoke about the first time he rode in an RMP. The first thing he noticed was the smell of kerosene. Later when assigned to a Bronx precinct, the radio station had call letters KEA 841 and he was able to listen to broadcasts from Biloxi, Mississippi, Helena, Montana and the San Bernadine Sheriff’s Office. Sometimes Deer Lodge, Montana was heard on the late tours.
It was the time of “call boxes” and one-way radios in the RMP. If you wanted a heater in the car, you bought it. There were no multi-colored warning lights – just a little box on the roof that flashed “POLICE” when you threw on the switch. If you wanted to work the siren, you had to press a button on the floor with your foot.
In 1935, New York’s RMPs had an extremely simple warning system with a motor-driven siren mounted on the front bumper. Originally the department purchased green vehicles, but painted the front fender black in order to get a half-second drop on the bad guy before he “made it” as a police car. Emergency Service units were equipped with heavy tools and submachine guns. They responded initially in what were open-body fire trucks that were also painted NYPD green.
In 1937, the department purchased Plymouth P3 coupes and modified their colors and graphic scheme. The top surfaces of the vehicles (including roof, hood and truck lids) were painted white. This provided some comfort during the summer months. Rear fenders were painted black to match the front, while the rest of the vehicle was green. On either side of the center-hinged hood were the letters POLICE N.Y. Both doors had the car’s precinct numbers painted in white.
Additionally, the department updated the vehicle’s warning system with the “light box” on the forward edge of the roof. It was a metal box with an electrically lighted forward-facing POLICE message, white letters against a red background that was illuminated during an emergency call or during a chase. During the war years, some RMPs had a bi-directional blinking red light bolted atop the light box. Nick also mentioned that the last vehicles to use the “light box” were the 1955 Ford Mainline sedans.
The department went back and forth with the purchase of RMPs. After the war Plymouths were preferred until 1949, at which time a huge order was placed for Ford six-cylinder two-door sedans. In 1956, Chevrolet two-door sedans each fitted with a rotary roof beacon and a red dome light (Federal Beacon Ray) entered NYPD’s fleet of RMPs.
1958 saw a big change as NYPD placed a new emphasis on high speed response by cops in sector cars, mimicking a new proactive philosophy of policing that grabbed a firm hold in Dallas and Los Angeles. Ford Motors delivered the first four-door patrol cars – the 1958 Ford Custom 300 that quickly became the sergeant’s car. Yes, sergeants always got the new RMPs! The only exception was the 1962 Rambler Classic.
During the 1960s, the department’s telephone 440-1234 appeared on the rear fenders of RMPs. The Sprint System would direct each incoming phone call into the proper borough radio dispatcher. In July, 1968 Nine-eleven (911) became the primary emergency number. The department’s color scheme (NYPD green) for radio cars endured until 1973, when they switched to a new department insignia (Kelly’s patch) and the white-over-blue paint. Over the years, various messages have appeared on radio cars that had to do with community relations, i.e. CPR- Courtesy, Professionalism & Respect.
Inauguration Days On January 20, 1969, a contingent of 130 New York City policemen, led by P.C. Howard Leary took part in the inauguration day parade in Washington DC. They attended at the personal invitation of President Nixon and were the only police marching unit in the parade. Chief Inspector Sanford Garelik, with other high-ranking members of the force, as well as several representatives of the various line organizations, preceded the bluecoats down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capital to the White House.
The first members of the department that took part in an inauguration day parade occurred when President Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in for his third term on January 20, 1941. One hundred and ten blue-coats, led by a deputy inspector were used to line the parade route, but did not march. The last time NYPD marched in an inauguration parade was in 1989, when the National Republican Party invited NYPD, Springfield, MA and Philadelphia to attend the swearing in of George H.W. Bush. “Bush 41” carried a duplicate shield of slain P.O. Edward Byrnes, 109 Pct during his campaign for the presidency.