A few weeks back, New York City mourned as police officer Randolph Holder was buried after he was killed in the line of duty by a career criminal.
Holder was remembered by NYPD Captain Reymundo Mundo as “a true hero of the NYPD.” Holder’s body was then flown to his native Guyana, where he was laid to rest, in a service attended by New York as well as Guyanese cops, not to mention Guyanese President David Granger.
There is a fierce debate going on right now about policing and how officers interact with and treat the people they are supposed to serve. But while cops are often depicted as the ultimate symbols of power, it’s important to remember that -- in the past as well as the present -- many hail from the most humble immigrant roots.
Look no further than the gruesome year of 1930, when nearly 20 members of the NYPD were killed in the line of duty, including those with Irish immigrant roots named McMahon, Coughlin, Keenan and O’Brien.
The immigrant roots of the NYPD are front and center in a recent book written and published by Bernard Whalen, himself an Irish American police officer.
Whalen, along with his father Jon, has authored The NYPD’s First Fifty Years: Politicians, Police Commissioners & Patrolmen.
The book is a colorful look at how the modern NYPD was created in 1898, when the five boroughs of New York were consolidated into the city we know today.
“The reader of this book will gain a new appreciation for the complexities involved in policing America’s largest and greatest metropolis,” current NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton writes in the foreword to the Whalens’ book.
From the start, the Irish played a central role in the NYPD. This is only fitting since the main political power in New York was Tammany Hall, run at the turn-of-the-century by Cork native “Boss” Richard Croker. The first top cops (at an annual salary of $6,000) during the transition years were John McCullagh, a “52-year-old Irishman,” as the Whalens’ write, as well as the notorious “Big” Bill Devery, who was followed by Limerick native Michael Murphy.
Bernard Whalen is a 30 year veteran of the NYPD who is currently a lieutenant working out of police headquarters and assigned to the NYPD’s Office of Labor Relations.
“My father's [maternal] grandfather … was John Flanigan and he came to America from Ireland in the 1880s,” said Whalen, a proud AOH member. (Sadly, Bernard’s co-author and father, Jon, a former corrections officer and teacher, died recently.)
Their book explores the crime on the street and the maneuverings in the halls of power that made the NYPD the most famous crime fighters in America.
One prominent theme in the book if the outsized role the Irish played in the NYPD’s formative years.
“Police Commissioner McAdoo, an Irishman himself, lamented that an honest cop would never expose a dirty cop and that this attitude was prevalent throughout the department, a trait he attributed to the cops' shared Irish heritage,” Whalen said.
“It was a difficult problem because most of the politicians were Irish Democrats tied in with Tammany Hall who controlled city government from behind the scenes including the police department.”
This put officers in a bind that many current members of the NYPD know all too well.
“The politicians forced cops to do their bidding, so patrolmen of the past -- much like police officers today -- sometimes become political pawns,” said Whalen.
Given the recent attacks in Paris, it is also interesting to note that the Whalens’ dedicated their book to several police officers, including Irish American detectives Joseph Lynch and Joseph Gallagher. The former was killed and the latter injured in a terrorist dynamite explosion at the British Pavilion of the 1940s World’s Fair of Flushing, Queens. Suspects ranged from the IRA to German Fascists to British operatives who wanted to push the U.S. into World War II.
The case was never solved. But another cop with immigrant roots had paid the ultimate price.* Contact [email protected]