A Bit of the History Behind My NYC Books

In the 1880's, the New York Police department acted as a money-making arm of the city's corrupt government. Patrolmen collected graft from brothels, bar halls and gamblers. The police pocketed some of the loot, but most of the money made its way into Tammany Hall's coffers. Systematic corruption encompassed nearly every aspect of life in the department: cops had to buy their promotions. If they didn't have ready cash, Tammany politicians would lend them the amount, and charge interest, of course. The promotions weren't cheap - a captain's position went for as much as $15,000.

The press occasionally demanded that the city to clean up the police force, but the era of the flagrant kickbacks and corruption only declined in 1894 when a new police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, began a dramatic and well-publicized clean up of the department.

Want to Explore New York History?

(or find out more about the life of a New York cop?) Some of the sources I used:

My Father’s Gun by Brian McDonald

Low Life: Drinking, Drugging, Whoring, Murder, Corruption, Vice and Miscellaneous Mayhem in Old New York by Luc Sante

Five Points: the 19th Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum by Tyler Anbinder

1886 Professional Criminals Of New York by Inspector Thomas Byrnes [the Lyons Press has a good reprint. It's a WONDERFUL book!]

Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age by H. Paul Jeffers, a biography of one of the era's most flamboyant symbols.

1893 King's Handbook of New York City by Moses King, two volumes, complete with photos taken in the late 1800s. It lists everything you'd want to know about the city . . .and plenty you probably don't give a hoot about.

Jacob Riis, a journalist and photographer of the period, wrote How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.

The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell. These are essays written in the 1940s-1950s but I'm including them because they're wonderful -- and they are about New York.