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The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
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Text for Page 009

	          The Harbor Police

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
  They entered vessels nocturnally and purloined all
they could lay their hands upon, sometimes mal-
treating and even murdering watchmen, oftener
threatening mates and captains with loaded pistols
pointed at their heads or knives at their throats� 
as mates and captains were rather too commonly
fond of alleging, by way of accounting for any large
deficiency in the amount of the owner�s property under 
their charge.  They bored holes from beneath,
through the planking of hollow piers, and casks of
spirits, wine, molasses, &c., depleting the contents
into vessels of their own in boats below, insomuch
that when the stevedores or laborers came to remove
the said casks they found their work unexpectedly
lightened.  They cut vessels adrift and the pil-
laged them.  They stole chains, cordage, timber,
iron, lead, copper, boats, stores, goods of all kinds
�nothing being too hot, and very little too heavy
for them.  Like the bravo in Gil Blas, when it was
their business to deal with other men�s property,
they would willingly have carried off Noah�s ark.
Of their ferocity and recklessness, the murder of a
watchman by Saul and Howlett�a case which ex-
cited much attention at the time, and terminated
in the execution of the offenders�may give some
		        HARBOR POLICE.
  To war against and if possible extirpate this
horde of amphibious rascality, the Harbor Police
was instituted not quite four years ago.  Its hours,
its pay, and, as near as possible, its duties are simi-
lar to those of the land police; the men after roll
call repairing to their boats instead of patrolling
the streets, and observing in all respects the same
regulations as those on shore.  They are principal-
ly recruited from the ranks of sailors and boatmen.
Each man carries, when on duty, a loaded navy re-
volver.  The force is now less than it has been,
comprising the captain, four sergeants, thirty-nine
patrolmen and two doormen�forty-four persons
in all.  These are accommodated with four boats,
one stationed at Quarantine for the convenience of
the authorities there.  This force�less than half
the number of the Thames Police, which consists
of ninety-eight men, eight duty boats and two su-
pervision boats, and has a much more limited ex-
tent of coast under supervision�does duty on both
the East and North rivers, including the Brooklyn
shore.  How effectually, the absence of the commis-
sion of great crimes from the river and the com-
parative security of property may testify.
  At first, of course, there was a hard struggle; the
thieves attempted to draw the police into abandon-
ing their duties.  Their lives were threatened daily.
It became necessary, each night, to lock up a cer-
tain amount of suspicious characters, just to keep

[newspaper clipping: second column]
them out of harm�s way, in distrust of what they
might be inclined to nocturnally.  Sergeant Holland
tells us how he has found occasion to step into a
boat, and, laying his revolver beside him as a gen-
tle reminder of his authority, to direct its evil-dis-
posed freight to row him to a certain pier�say as
near to the Tombs as possible.  Whereupon they
would demand, What for? and inquire what they
had been a doing of?  To which the Sergeant re
sponding by a simple reiteration of his request,
they were fain sullenly to comply with it, and so
convey themselves to within a convenient distance
of the place of their detentions.
  In time, however, the task became easier, for
crime is no match for untiring, disciplined, daily
vigilance.  The thieves became discouraged, the
dealers in junk, old rags, marine stores and pur-
chasers of stolen goods made fortunes much less
rapidly, and the duties of the Harbor Police were
less exclusively connected with crime.  They may
be generally stated as follows:
  1. The prevention of crime and apprehension of
criminals on the river, as stated above.
  2. The recovery of property, adrift or afloat.
This, in amount, exceeds that saved in any other
ward in the city.  Sometimes it is a lighter that
comes floating down the bay, with twenty or thirty
hogsheads of sugar on board, worth perhaps $7,000.
Sometimes a canal boat laden with $500 worth of 
coal, at others a few thousand staves adrift from a
craft capsized by a Fulton ferry-boat.  In the former
cases the officers take possession of and retain the
vessel until the discovery of the owners; in the latter
they collect the floating property and compel the
swarms of boats attracted by it to render up their
loads.  Of property saved in this manner, that ac-
cidentally astray exceeds that recovered from
thieves by a large proportion, as the police records
show.  For the quarter ending January 31 (the
police year dates from the beginning of February),
the value of the lost property (principally com-
prised in the one item of the lighter laden with
sugar, alluded to above,) amounted to $8,338; the
stolen to $533.  For the quarter ending April 30,
(again almost comprised in a single item of a re-
covered schooner) the lost is appraised at $3,250;
the stolen at $600 50.  For the quarter closing on
July 31: Lost, $2,582 50; stolen, $399.  These 
items are largely illustrative of the value of a regu-
lar daily and nightly patrol.
  3. Saving lives, by rescuing people who have fal-
len into the water by accident, or who endeavor to
commit suicide.  Sometimes, in the summer, the
former average three and four a month.  To this
duty may be added the ghastly one of bringing
drowned bodies to land, and consigning them to               
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