Briefing - The Great New York Police Riot
In the 1850's, upset by the extent of Mayor Fernando Wood's control over the city and the corruption in the New York City Municipal Police Force, the New York State Legislature – hardly less corrupt, but never loath to do the metropolis a bad turn – passed an act forming the Metropolitan Police Force, to cover not only New York City, but also several adjacent communities, including Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg. The legislature then ordered the dissolution of the Municipals. Mayor Wood refused to break up the Municipals, and took the matter to court. Early in 1857 the State Supreme Court – which is the lowest state court in New York, but that’s another matter – ruled that the legislature had been within its constitutional rights in forming the Metropolitans and in ordering the dissolution of the Municipals. Mayor Wood continued to resist, and the matter went up to the Court of Appeals, the next highest court in the state. Meanwhile, of course, during the Spring of 1857, New York City was “blessed” with two police forces, the Municipals, under the mayor’s jurisdiction and confined to the city limits, and the Metropolitans, under the state’s authority, and extending over the city and several nearby communities.
The results were predictable. Friction soon developed between the rival police forces. On June 14, 1857, The New-York Times reported that members of the Metropolitan Police Force had arrested a man for disorderly conduct on East 9th Street, but that he had been immediately seized by a member of the Municipal Police Force. A group of the Metropolitans promptly “remonstrated” with the Municipal, and soon regained custody of the miscreant, in the process arresting the Municipal and another city officer who had attempted to come to his assistance. Later that day, a mob of Municipals gathered around the Metropolitan Police Station on East 6th Street. For a rowdy demonstration. The next day was quite. But on the 16th things grew more serious.
On the 15th, the state-appointed police commission ordered the arrest of Mayor Wood, on the grounds that he had not complied with the legislative mandate to disband the Municipals. The next day, the Metropolitans attempted to arrest the mayor at City Hall, defended by scores of Municipals, who had hastily fortified the building. In the ensuing melee, officers on both sides wielded truncheons, fists, and pieces of furniture, though surprisingly refraining from shooting each other. The outcome was that the Municipals repulsed the Metropolitans.
On the 18th, the Metropolitans returned, heavily reinforced, to storm City Hall. During the ensuing fight, as a jeering throng of "roughs" joined in the fray, shouting their support for Mayor Wood. Things looked bad for the Metropolitans when the militia showed up, ordered into action by the governor. Led by the famed 7th New York – the National Guard – the militiamen routed the defenders, permitting the arrest of the mayor, though not before about 50 officers were injured.
The forces between the two police forces continued to feud, but order was restored after the State Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Supreme Court on July 2, 1857. With the militia supporting the state legislature, Mayor Wood had no choice but to disband the Municipals, a measure made more palatable to the officers in question by their acceptance into the Metropolitans.