Monday, November 21, 2005

And then there are days where the NYTimes acts like a good little boy and takes it's medication. Like so.

November 15, 2005

For New York Officers Felled in the Line of Duty, Recognition at Last

They fell victim to drunken sailors, rioters, and women of abandoned character, adversaries who attacked them with coarse weapons: paving stones, pistols and dirks.

On the meaner streets of a younger New York, the policemen died in ways redolent of the age.

One patrolman was cut down with a sword. Horses or drawn carriages trampled others. A few policemen met their ends after treachery, shot or stabbed by fellow officers in dramas soaked with alcohol. The stabbing of another officer sparked days of riots.

In a memorial ceremony today, the Police Department will unveil plaques with the names of 100 officers who died in the line of duty between 1849 and 1997 and had not been honored. Descendants of eight of the officers will attend the ceremony, the police said.

The presentation of the plaques, which are bolted high on a wall in the lobby of Police Headquarters at 1 Police Plaza, marks the end of a two-year department research project to document the circumstances of the officers' deaths, and to recognize them. Historians and descendants of the police officers were consulted for clues. Researchers mined old newspaper articles, public death records and the department's own history - including more than a century's worth of police orders, bound in tattered red books that sit on an aluminum shelf in Police Headquarters.

The researchers, led by Lt. Michael McGrath, uncovered an absorbing history of policing from another time. Because the bronze plaques list only the names, ranks, and year that the officers died, much of that past will stay largely invisible to the public. More detail, however, can be found in archived newspaper accounts.

On Oct. 19, 1867, Officer Robert S. McChesney, to his great misfortune, ran into Fanny Wright, a woman well known for "intemperate habits" who had been arrested frequently for disorderly conduct and drunkenness, according to an article in The New York Times.

On that day, Ms. Wright was harassing passers-by on Canal Street, and Officer McChesney tried to intervene.

"As soon as he laid his hand upon her arm she swung herself around, and half broke away from the officer's grasp," a reporter wrote. "And as she did so she dealt him a sudden blow in the left side of the neck with a common pearl-handled, three-bladed knife, the blade severing the jugular vein."

In September 1895, using a weapon somewhat more common than a three-bladed knife - but no less deadly - a professional acrobat named William Coleman, who was drunk, beat Officer John T. Delehanty with a sandbag. Officer Delehanty died soon afterward at Bellevue Hospital, and the beating led Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the Board of Police Commissioners, to call for the return of long nightsticks for police officers.

"I love this project," said Lieutenant McGrath, who said the research team's mission was to remember all the department's members. He also relished the idea of stepping back in time: "Once you read the stories, of guys beaten to death in anti-Catholic riots, or in Draft Riots - John Smedick's a good one. This guy ambushes him and fires a pistol at him."

He was referring to the murder of Officer John Smedick on July 23, 1868, by John Real, "a notorious ruffian" on First Avenue near 32nd Street. The Times called it "one of the most unprovoked and reckless murders ever committed."

Mr. Real, who had been arrested twice by Officer Smedick, explained to the police that he was "bound to get square on him."

Of course, not all of the deaths were so dramatic.

In 1851, Sgt. Michael Foster was fatally stabbed outside the Porterhouse Bar by sailors from the Schooner Habana. In 1863, several officers died in the Draft Riots.

In 1898, an officer contracted a fatal case of typhoid while on assignment. In 1905, Patrolman Ira Kinne was accidentally shot in the abdomen by a fellow officer while working as a firearms instructor at the Ninth Regiment Armory.

In 1900, after Patrolman Robert J. Thorpe arrested May Enoch for loitering, her husband, Arthur Harris, fatally stabbed Patrolman Thorpe at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue. Mr. Harris was black, and rioting followed as whites bent on revenge attacked blacks on the West Side.

Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly relaxed department rules in 1993, during his first tenure, so that all officers who died in the line of duty receive a plaque. He said that while the stories illuminated a different era, in many ways the job had not changed.

"Cops put on the blue uniform, and go out, and run into situations that put their lives in risk. It's different in the sense of both technology and perhaps training," he said.

"But it comes down to you being the first person up the stairs. Or the first person in the door. The heart pounds, and the adrenaline rises," he said. "It doesn't change."

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