NYPD: The Inside Story of New York's Legendary Police Department

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An insider takes us behind the blue wall of America's biggest, baddest police force

Founded in 1845, the NYPD is the biggest municipal police force in the world, the oldest in the land, and the model on which the others-for better or worse-have patterned themselves. The authors-two seasoned experts of police operations-unearth the hidden truths behind the headline-making stories and explain how cops privately interpret incidents such as the shooting of Amadou Diallo and the ...

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An insider takes us behind the blue wall of America's biggest, baddest police force

Founded in 1845, the NYPD is the biggest municipal police force in the world, the oldest in the land, and the model on which the others-for better or worse-have patterned themselves. The authors-two seasoned experts of police operations-unearth the hidden truths behind the headline-making stories and explain how cops privately interpret incidents such as the shooting of Amadou Diallo and the Louima torture case. Episodes long forgotten-the campaign against German saboteurs in WWI, or the career of Joe Petrosino, the first Italian American in the ranks, who was gunned down in the streets of Palermo, Sicily-reveal an organization constantly fraught with turmoil, where an outward display of law and order belies the inner conflicts between politicos, bureaucrats, and the men and women on the beat.

Beyond the inner life of a remarkable institution are the characters and stories, including baffling mysteries, horrific crimes, inspiring heroics, and dreadful scandals. NYPD illuminates the old maxim of the vet to the rookie on his first night on patrol: "Forget everything you learned in the academy, kid."Timely and sure to be controversial, NYPD will be essential reading for anyone interested in law enforcement in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Heroes and Villains

"Forget everything you learned in the academy, kid," a venerable legend has a weathered police veteran telling an impressionable rookie on his first night on the beat. Like this anecdote, this history of the country's oldest municipal police force carries a certain irony: It is a portrait of people who have kept order in America's largest city -- but who have abandoned their sworn duty to serve and protect with alarming regularity. Policing New York, we learn in Thomas Reppetto and James Lardner's NYPD: The Inside Story of New York's Legendary Police Department, has always offered countless opportunities for both heroism and disgrace. New York's love-hate relationship with its police force is a time-honored tradition.

In its earliest days, the city's police force was only a part-time night watch that helped fight fires, quell disturbances, and arrest criminals caught in the act, with no emphasis whatsoever on solving mysterious or violent crimes. As the city's criminal element grew bolder, however, the force's limited function began to seem inadequate. The rise of the penny press, notably the New York Herald, put additional pressure on the city to combat the growing rate of violent crime. The gruesome death in 1841 of a cigar shop clerk named Mary Rogers and the discovery of her body in the Hudson River triggered the Herald's call for a professional police department. "For months on end," Reppetto and Lardner report, "the Herald led the charge with diatribe after diatribe against a 'petty officialdom' preoccupied with 'petty crimes' while the 'blood of Mary Rodgers [sic] is crying out for vengeance from the depth of the Hudson.'" In 1845 a full-time round-the-clock police force was finally established, including 800 officers.

Not ten years later, the first controversial police shootings occurred, "complete," write Reppetto and Lardner, "with charges of ethnic discrimination." The authors explore the department's relationship with New York's many ethnic groups in a fascinating chapter titled "So Many Races Up Against You." Although it would soon include great numbers of German- and Irish-born officers, the department did not welcome New York's influx of immigrants with open arms. The department did not hire its first Hispanic officer until 1896; its first black officer was appointed in 1914 (but not fully accepted by his peers until years later). The Italian-born Joe Petrosino, a legendary detective who started at the bottom of the ladder in 1883, proved the wisdom of hiring officers from varied backgrounds: He made himself invaluable in infiltrating organized crime circles until he was gunned down in Sicily on an undercover mission. But Petrosino's success seems to be an anomaly. On the whole, according to Reppetto and Lardner, the NYPD was an organization that has never truly embraced the value of racial harmony, internally or in its dealings with the community. Mentions of Crown Heights, Abner Louima, and Amadou Diallo later in the book make this point even more emphatically.

Equally troubling is the seemingly cyclical nature of police corruption in the department and subsequent reform. From its hand-in-glove relationship with the notorious Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall to the alarming numbers of cops on the take from local businesses which operated outside the law, the NYPD has from its earliest days been weakened by its own illegal leanings. Establishment reformers like Teddy Roosevelt, one of New York's flashier commissioners, and civilian watchdogs like Reverend Charles H. Parkhurst tried to eradicate police corruption, but changing political winds and the consequent shifts in power upset their efforts time and again. Reppetto and Lardner suggest that every period of reform is finite, followed by a period of rampant police lawlessness. Can racially motivated brutality be the department's current mode of wrongdoing?

Reppetto and Lardner resist the temptation to focus solely on the NYPD's failures (though they do explore those unflinchingly). Their stories of turmoil are balanced by accounts of the department's successes and by tales of heroism on the part of individual officers. We meet early super-cops like Petrosino, legendary detective Thomas Byrnes, and George Walling, whose journals provide a rich and full picture of the department's early years. We relive the years of World War I, when the police fought a band of German saboteurs. We meet a few early policewomen who were undercover successes. And later we're introduced to Frank Serpico, the corruption fighter immortalized on screen by Al Pacino. The authors never romanticize the exploits of these extraordinary cops, creating a fair balance between their good works and the department's less laudable moments.

Reppetto and Lardner's book devotes more space to the department's formative years than to its recent past, and this seems appropriate when we consider that any institution as venerable and storied as the NYPD develops a character based largely on its history and the legends attached to it. NYPD gives New Yorkers and interested onlookers the rare chance to understand that character, as complex and conflicted as the city's itself.

—Julie Robichaux

From the Publisher
"A fascinating ride-along with the largest and most influential police force in the country." (The Wall Street Journal)

"Entertaining and witty." (John Timoney, The New York Observer)

"NYPD is both enlightening and entertaining. It should be required reading." (Alan Lupo, The Boston Globe)

"Neither indictment nor apologia, but bona fide history, thoroughly researched and engagingly written."(Business Week)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A comprehensive and elegant history of the New York Police Department, this book, written by a journalist Lardner and a former cop Reppetto, charts the department's development, from its origins as a collection of unorganized watchmen in the 1820s to its recent past. In crisp, anecdote-rich prose, Lardner a New Yorker contributor and Reppetto now president of New York's Citizens Crime Commission take readers on a chronological tour--through the years when the department reluctantly adopted firearms and uniforms and when police applicants depended on patronage, through wave after wave of anti-corruption ferment, and through years of controversy. Drawing on sources ranging from the memoir of George Washington Walling, a 19th-century officer who saw action during most of the era's flashpoints including the 1849 Opera House Riot and the 1863 Draft Riots, to newspaper accounts and legislative committee reports, Lardner and Reppetto assess the potential for good and bad in the city and on its police force. Along the way, they recount colorful stories about early gangs like the Dead Rabbits and Five Pointers; they examine the conflict between the Metropolitan Police and the Municipals, an early rogue offshoot; and they address the department's pendulum-like swings between corruption and reform which, they note, gets activated every 20 years by a major scandal. They also depict the Giuliani administration's 1990s' "Rediscovery of Crime" and recent controversies like the deaths of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, both unarmed black men gunned to death by police officers. Arguing that the cop's lot has barely changed since the 1800s, the two authors assess--in a fair-minded way--the enduring relationship between a police force and their city. Their account is at once entertaining, historical and engaged with hard questions about the nature and politics of police work--a true accomplishment. 30 b&w illus. Author tour. Aug. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Given the seemingly endless number of books about the NYPD, police brutality, and corruption, one might think it difficult to find a refreshingly new and in-depth approach to the nation's oldest police force. But this history accomplishes such a feat. Lardner, who has written on the NYPD for The New York Times Magazine, and Repetto, president of New York's Citizens Crime Commission, examine the long history of New York's police from the 1820s, before the city organized them into a formal department, until the near present. In 1820, there were no housing projects, violent gangs, gun-toting drug dealers, or media scrutiny. As time passed, the department mirrored the waves of immigrants that moved to the city, beginning with the Irish in the 1840s, the Italians and Jews in the 1890s, African Americans from the Southern states after World War I, and, most recently, the Puerto Ricans. People who criticize some of the NYPD's controversial actions today might be equally shocked by past actions, which included the common practice of accepting graft, brutality against criminals (with media support), bribery, riots, and competing city police forces, manipulated by politicians. Both entertaining and insightful, this excellent book is highly recommended for all libraries.-Tim Delaney, Canisius Coll., Buffalo
Anthony Bianco
NYPD is neither indictment nor apologia, but bona fide history, thoroughly researched and engagingly written...the authors succeed at the ambitious task they set themselves: unearthing the pre-Giuliani NYPD and fashioning from it a compelling account of the evolution of America's oldest and largest police force.
Business Week
The New Yorker
An engrossing history... if recent atrocities are only skimmed, this vast history shows that nearly every incident, no matter how shocking, is merely and echo of one that has come before.
Tom Deignan
NYPD is a broad, balanced treatment of a controversial topic.
Irish America
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805055788
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/23/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Reppetto is a former Chicago Commander of Detectives and has been the President of New York City's Citizens Crime Commission for twenty years. James Lardner, a writer for The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, has written cover pieces for The New York Times Magazine (including one on the NYPD). He is the author of Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese and the VCR Wars and Crusader: The Hell-Raising Police Career of Detective David Durk.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Ghosts on Patrol
1 A Cry from the Bottom of the Hudson 3
2 "I Might as Well Carry a Club" 24
3 The Finest 50
4 The Great Detective 72
5 "Down with the Police" 90
6 The Glorious Retreat 108
7 "So Many Races Up Against You" 125
8 "Just a Little Lieutenant" 146
9 The NYPD Goes to War 169
10 Shoofly 191
11 The Celebrity Cops 213
12 Battle in the Lead 240
13 On the Pad 261
14 Twenty and Out 275
15 "Dave, Do Something!" 292
16 The Rediscovery of Crime 313
A Note on Place-Names 335
Sources 337
Acknowledgments 349
Index 351
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2006

    Good read, Great history

    Lardner and Reppetto have come out with a perceptive and ingeinious look at the history of the NYPD. Not only is it a book that is easy to get through, but it is a book that give an unbiased and well analized look at this history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2001

    Interesting Police History

    As a 29 year police veteran and a collector of historical police memorabilia I found this book interesting and educational. I found it to be an easy read that provided a colorful and realistic look at not just the history of the NYPD, but of American policing in general. Possibly, because of my background and interests in police memorabilia my opinion is somewhat biased, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

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