8 Facts About Theodore Roosevelt: New York’s Finest

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8. New York’s Finest

The New York Police Department today may be called “New York’s Finest,” but back in the 1890s, it might have been more appropriately hailed as “New York’s Most Corrupt!”

Enter Theodore Roosevelt in 1895, ready to clean house as the city’s no-nonsense police commissioner. Technically, he was the President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, but he was clearly in charge, as he was known to stroll the city streets well into the wee hours to make sure cops were walking their beats, not goofing off, socializing, or engaging in activities other than their jobs. Sometimes, he would bring a reporter with him to chronicle his findings. Officers not at their posts, on their beat, or caught literally sleeping on the job, had to face T.R. the next day.

He was a stickler for the law which, in some circumstances, was left to interpretation or blatantly ignored. For example, he made it mandatory that the law banning the sale of alcohol in saloons on Sunday actually be enforced. People were not happy with the law to begin with, and they were certainly not thrilled with T.R. leveraging consequences on those who broke it. In truth, he felt it was too strict, but it was his job to see it upheld. If simply banning alcohol sales made him unpopular, when he tried to close all of Manhattan’s 1,500 saloons on Sundays, he became downright despised—and a target! Protests erupted in New York City streets and two pipe-bombs were mailed to his office.

But he stood his ground and continued in the job for 15 months, weeding out corrupt cops and officials, and taking a tough stance on crime, until he quit to go on the road in support of the 1896 Republican presidential candidate, William McKinley.

His time as police commissioner earned him a law-and-order reputation, which proved popular as he traveled the country speaking on McKinley’s behalf. But as for his future, T.R. told a friend, “This is the last office I shall ever hold. I have offended so many powerful interests and so many powerful politicians.”

Little did he know he would call the New York Governor’s mansion, and ultimately, the White House his homes in just a few years.

Fun fact: If you’re a fan of Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck, keep your eyes peeled for a large photo of Theodore Roosevelt on the wall in Commissioner Frank Reagan’s office.