Saturday, September 20, 2014

Police Commissioner Roosevelt: Or Ro-Ro and the Po-Po!



Theodore Roosevelt was a badass. Today we know him best as the guy who charged up Kettle Hill (not San Juan as history records) on horseback. He was the only guy on the whole freaking battlefield on horseback!  That took some cojones. Some may know him from his Presidency. Personally I think he was the last good president we had. We all know one thing that Roosevelt gave us, or rather gave us a name for; the Teddy Bear! But before all of this, Roosevelt held a different post. New York City Police Commissioner. A job for which he may not have been overly qualified for but one that he relished nonetheless.

In 1894 Roosevelt was appointed to be the president of the New York City Police Commissioner's Board. This was a group of civilians (all political appointees) who oversaw the operation of NYPD. At the time, NYPD was said to be the most corrupt police agencies in America. Roosevelt planned to change all that. One thing that can be said about Roosevelt is that he had a very clear and strong moral compass. He did not see any gray areas in the world. Everything was black and white.

At the time, certain practices were commonplace among urban law enforcement agencies. Officers might duck into an alley and catch a nap. They also accepted a little extra cash from business owners to make sure that those establishments stayed crime free. Officers routinely took free merchandise (meals, clothing, etc) from shopkeepers. Roosevelt would tell you in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing as a free cup of coffee. He would have his work cut out for him.

Roosevelt went out at night in disguise trying to catch officers behaving badly. If he caught you, then you'd face a disciplinary board. The officers HATED him! He was so effective that after a few years, the political bosses decided that they were going to eliminate the commissioner's board and replace it with just one commissioner. Ironically enough, as Governor of New York it was TR himself who signed that law! It wasn't just about enforcing ethical rules though. Roosevelt also tried to appoint officers for their mental and physical abilities rather than who they knew or voted for. He also standardized departmental weapons and demanded officers know how to use them.

But do you know what they funny part of this story is? After he went on to fame as the commander of the Rough Riders and became a popular President, the sentiment of many NYPD officers changed. They began to brag about getting busted by Commissioner Roosevelt. It almost became a badge of honor to have been brought up on charges by him. It sort of reminds me of how people who played for a real hardass of a coach in high school whom they all hated at the time will reminisce fondly about the coach at the high school reunion and try to top each other with tales of getting in trouble.

Allow me to close with one more feat of badassery from my favorite President. While giving traveling to give a speech in 1912, an assassin shot him in the chest as Roosevelt stepped out of the car. Roosevelt determined that since he was not coughing up blood that he would live! He then went in and spoke for 90 freaking minutes with a bullet in his chest and blood running down his shirt! There will never be another Theodore Roosevelt.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian rather than a Bada$$ President.