The definitive history of the nation’s largest police force.
NYPD – A City and Its Police (2000)
There is no police department in the United States that has a richer, racier, and more complex history than the NYPD. NYPD – A City and Its Police (2000), is the definitive book on the history of the department and is a must read for any law enforcement buff.
Authors James Lardner and Thomas Repetto (who I had the pleasure of meeting) craft an engaging and page turning tale of the agency. They relate the history of the department while focusing on fascinating stories of events that changed the NYPD and American policing in general.
The book starts at the beginning. The very beginning, the colonial days of night watchmen and their growth to a paid institution. The book relates stories from the fantastic, such as the Metropolitan police vs Municipal police riot, to the mundane, such as diarist and Patrolman George Walling being caught off post while patrolling City Hall Park on a cold day in 1847 (an offense that I was also caught committing).
Unfortunately, much of the history of the NYPD can be told through corruption scandals and stories of the valor of dead cops. This book is heavy on both. From the organized corruption rackets that came and went before the Knapp Commission, to the depravities of Lieutenant Becker, who was convicted of murdering notorious gambler Herman Rosenthal. From the murder of courageous Lieutenant Giuseppe Petrosino at the hand of the mafia in Sicily, to the murder of Eddie Byrne who died safeguarding a witness in Queens.
The pair of authors manage to cram more than 200 years of police history into a book of only about 300 pages. The use of narratives and wild tales to exemplify the reason for the changes that the NYPD went through makes it all a compelling read, leading to a few definite AHA! moments. Any NYPD cop reading the narrative will recognize stories that led to changes in policy, and what could go wrong when those policies are not followed. There is no sugar-coating the NYPD in this narrative. The authors do a good job in telling it like it was and laying history bare for all to understand.
Overall, this is an easy read that can be pulled off in a weekend. The book is available on Amazon for $20 and is available at many libraries. It could use an update as the book ends before the millennium, but overall, a fascinating story of the inner workings of our nation’s largest police force.
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