In May of 1895, before he emerged on the national stage, Theodore Roosevelt added New York City Police Commissioner to his resume.
Using his innate sense of duty, justice and honesty, TR was a bold transformative figure battling to reform a police force awash in corruption and political chicanery.
TR wrote a friend:
“This is the last office I shall ever hold. I have offended so many powerful interests and so many powerful politicians that no political preferment in the future will be possible for me.”
With his midnight strolls throughout the city, TR terrified errant and lazy officers on patrol. He hired the first woman to the force and inaugurated a fingerprint bureau. He lamented after two years that even much of the New York public disapproved of his opposition to their favorite vices.
“Public sentiment is apathetic and likes to talk about virtue in the abstract but does not want to obtain virtue if there is any trouble about it.
When we took up the task of reforming the police, we did it with our eyes open. We realized fully the heavy odds against which we had to fight and the almost incredible difficulties which beset our path.
An anti-Semitic preacher … came over to New York to preach a crusade against the Jews. Many of the New York Jews asked me to prevent him from speaking and not to give him police protection. This, I told them was impossible and would have made him a martyr. The proper thing to do was make him to look ridiculous.
Accordingly, I detailed police for his protection. He made his harangue against the Jews under the active protection of some 40 policemen-every one of them Jewish. It was the most effective answer possible – an object lesson that there must be no division of class hatred of creed against creed, nationality against nationality – or any class based on theological, social, or industrial considerations.”
Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.