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September 4th, 2012

The NYPD in the Darkest Days

There’s a new show on BBC America about the early New York police department in the years just following the end of the Civil War. It’s called Copper. I was afraid they were going to white-wash the story a bit, but they haven’t. So if you are interested in law enforcement history, while this is a fictionalized account, they are getting some things right.

And, as long as I’m on the subject, a book called Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, by Richard Zacks, chronicles Roosevelt’s attempts to clean up the mess depicted in Copper. From the Amazon review, where it was listed among the Best Books of March 2012:

“Those living in New York City today may be surprised (or not!) to read about the state of their city in the 1890’s; overrun with prostitution, gambling, boot liquor and Tammany Hall, NYC was known as the “Island of Vice.” Enter the ever-ambitious Theodore Roosevelt, years before he became president, who stepped-in as the NYC Police Commissioner and made it his mission to clean up the city. Richard Zacks’ enthusiastic account of this period is a fun read—an adjective rarely used to describe history books. It would be difficult to invent a cast of characters as exuberant and flawed as those involved here, and Zacks brings them all to life with ease. He clearly enjoys the subject, elevating this well-researched book into something memorable.”

A detail from a photograph in Jacob A. Riis book, How the Other Half Lives. The caption for this photograph reads: Police station lodgers waiting to be let out.

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