The NYPD in its earliest decades was controlled by Tammany Hall and like the rest of the city agencies it controlled, it handed out political patronage jobs to insure votes. With the NYPD, Tammany Hall bosses used the NYPD to provide jobs to Irish immigrants hoping to insure their vote against the Anglo-political establishment left over from the British colonial era.
In fact, for about 20 years during the mid 19th century (including during the Civil War), NYC had 2 rival police forces, the NYPD, and the Metropolitan Police that was run by New York State’s Anglo establishment in Albany. The 2 forces often were just as busy fighting each other as they were fighting crime.
Early generations of Irish immigrants arriving in NYC were treated just as badly as black people were down south — the Irish were themselves disproportionally imprisoned (90% of NYC inmates by the early 19th century). In addition, Irish immigrants escaping the early to mid 19th century Potato Famine had no love for British. In fact, in many parts of early 19th century America, Irish immigrants and Blacks in the north were often crowded in the same slum neighborhoods. At the time Anglo-American establishment did not consider the Irish “white”.So as a result, of Tammany Hall using Irish immigrants to fill the NYPD ranks for their own political agenda, the NYPD became alomst totally Irish giving rise to the stereotypical “Irish copper” caricature along with the anti-Irish term “paddy wagon”.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the NYPD was so dominated by the Irish, there was even hostility towards newly arriving Italian immigrants and other European immigrants joining the force – let alone Black people. Again, unlike now many Eurupeans especially from southern Europe were not considered “white” at the time. “Whiteness” has changed over the generations but thats another discussion.
The history of the NYPD like so many other entites in this country is often the reflection of the history of classism, racism and racial clasification. With regards to policing in NYC, we live with this legacy to this day with the issue of police brutality, racial profiling, stop and frisk.Anyone who may be interested in the history of the NYPD earliest days should read the book “Low Life” by Luc Sante. It’s a unflattering look at NYC’s history of class, race, crime and vice from the early 1800’s to the 1920s. Sante devotes a chapter to the NYPD.