|The police system of New Orleans has passed through the same changes
and transformations as other branches of the city government; indeed,
there have been even more changes from the purely military system of the early days to the effective civil and municipal system which prevails
to-day under the control and management of a Board of Police
Commissioners. Under the French and Spanish rule, there was practically
no police force for New Orleans. The preservation of the peace of the
city was delegated to a few soldiers and civilians who patrolled the
streets at night. As in mediaeval times, these watchmen called out the
hours, as well as the state of the weather, and, in order to give a
feeling of confidence to citizens, shouted, if everything was
satisfactory, "Tout va bien!" — "All is well!" The patrolling was not
done by single men but by squads of four or five gens d'armes (the city
guard), who wore the usual French or Spanish uniform of gens d'armerie — cocked hat, deep blue frock coat and breast straps of black leather
supporting a cartridge-box. They went armed, too, and carried an
old-fashioned flint-lock musket with sword bayonet and short sword.
The only policing was done at night, when malefactors were thought to be about. Early in the evening the sergeant collected his squad at the guard-room which adjoined the old calabosa (calaboose or prison). Here the gens d'armes were put through the manual of arms, after which, with each squad under the command of a corporal, they marched, at "shoulder arms," to the section of the city they were detailed to patrol and guard. The city was very much limited in area then, including only the vieux carre bounded by what are now Canal, Rampart and Esplanade streets and the Mississippi. After making a round of the city, the several squads returned to the guard-house to make a report, and with such prisoners as they had picked up — negroes and drunken wayfarers. There was naturally a strong prejudice against the gens d'armes or serenos and the civil population, a majority of the former being Spainiards, whom the Creoles detested. The gens d'armes were accordingly the butt of the people, the subject of frequent lampoons and burlesque songs. In scrimmages, which were frequent, they suffered from their popular dislike, for a prisoner who was arrested by them had only to set up a cry to call his neighbors to his rescue. In nearly all such encounters the gens d'armes were outnumbered and overpowered and their prisoners released. The police were ordered by the Spanish officers to use their weapons as little as possible, so as not to intensify the Creole opposition to Spanish rule, which, always strong, grew stronger during the latter days of that domination. The calabosa, which was the police headquarters, was situated on St. Peters street in the rear of the present Louisiana Supreme Court building, having been erected there in 1795 by Don Andres Almonaster, builder of the St. Louis cathedral.
The actual police system of New Orleans, as distinguished from the military police system that prevailed under French and Spanish rule, dates from the establishment of the American dominion in Louisiana. After the abolition of the Spanish Cabildo or government of New Orleans and the establishment of the temporary municipal government under Mayor Etienne de Bore, one of the first acts of the new council was to provide for a proper police force; and Messrs. Livandais and E. Jones, members of the council, were appointed special police commissioners to inspect the prisons and formulate police regulations. The regulations drawn up by these commissioners were 108 in number. They are yet in existence among the city archives and give an excellent idea of the social as well as the police conditions which then existed in the little city. Some of them were so thoroughly in popular favor that they are continued to this day, with scarcely verbal changes.
Article 1 prohibits blasphemy (cursing) on the public streets. Article 2 prohibits "the driving of carts on the streets on Sunday" without a good excuse therefor, the punishment for "breaking the Sabbath" being twenty-four hours imprisonment in the calabosa. Article 3 prohibits gambling of all kinds. On the third offense the gamblers as well as those who played with them were subject not only to a heavy fine but were ordered to receive "twenty-five lashes on the bare back." There is no evidence that this severe law was ever enforced or had the slightest effect in suppressing or even reducing the gambling. New Orleans, on the contrary, stuck to gambling and indulged in more games of chance than any other city in the Union.
The Police Regulations of Messrs. Livandais and Jones were very well prepared and covered nearly all the offences against the peace and order of the community. A police being necessary to see to their enforcement, one was created to consist of twenty-five men, with Pierre Achille Rivery at their head as "Commissioner General of Police in the city and suburbs of New Orleans." M. Pierre Pedesclaux was made clerk to the chief and two aids provided for. The pay of the officers was very small, the two aids getting $20 and $25 only, respectively. The latter amount, $25, was paid to the second aid because he was required to know English as well as French. The American immigration was already pouring into the city, and the first comers, rude pioneers and flat-boatmen from the West, were a most troublesome class, who set at defiance the police force of New Orleans.
The small pay allowed the police rendered it no easy matter to secure white men for the force as was desired, and the council finally provided that if white men could not be found to do the police duty mulattoes might be employed; but the officers must be white — a remarkable provision in view of the existence of negro slavery at the time, and the strong prejudice afterward shown to the employment of negroes as officers. The patrol of the police was no longer restricted to the city limits, but they were required to go beyond the "walls" when requested by citizens "to catch runaway negroes, and put a stop to looting and other crimes."
In 1805 the temporary municipal government of New Orleans, which had existed from the time of the American purchase of Louisiana, was abolished, and the city was regularly incorporated by the Territorial Legislature. Mr. Regnier was appointed sub-inspector of police, and the police was recognized as a part of the municipal and civil government instead of the military government as heretofore. In August, 1804, the patrol militia was reorganized, with Col. Bellechasse as commandant. It was made up of firemen and hunters, and consisted of four squads of fifteen men each, the squads changing every eight days.
The militia patrol under Col. Bellechasse did duty in the outlying districts where there was a large disorderly and turbulent population. There was, in addition, a city patrol, composed of sixteen soldiers, two officers, two sergeants and two corporals, to be chosen each in turn from the militia and the volunteers. The patrol was divided into two sections for the night service, the first patrol going on in the evening and remaining on duty until midnight, when it was relieved by the second watch, which remained on duty until daybreak. The police headquarters were in the city hall, and were maintained by the city government. The militia patrol received no pay. It made an application to the city for the necessary appropriation to arm the men, asking for fourteen sabers, nineteen guns and thirty-nine pistols; but the council refused to make the necessary provision. On the contrary, the popular prejudice increased against the militia patrol, many of whom had been soldiers on the police force under the Spanish government; and in 1806, in deference to popular sentiment, the council decided to create a city police force, to be known as the "garde de ville." Thus in the short space of four years the police of New Orleans had been four times changed from the military to the gens d'armerie, the constabulary, the militia patrol, and, finally, the garde de ville. The new organization was intended to be a purely civic police, with the military element, which had survived from the Spanish and French days, eliminated. It consisted of one chief, two sub-chiefs or assistants and twenty men for the city proper; and for the Fauxbourg Ste. Marie, the American section, now the first municipal district, the same chief, two sub-chiefs and eight men; a total force of thirty-three. The chief was provided with a horse and allowed $60 a month, from which he had to provide food for the animal. The sub-chief received $25 a month, and each watchman $20. The police were armed with the old half pike and a saber suspended from a belt of black leather. They wore long brass buckles, on which was engraved "Garde de Ville" (City Watch). The headquarters were still in the city hall, where two men as a relief force and one sub-chief were always on duty. The reliefs were at 7 a. m. in the summer and 9 a. m. in winter.
The new police force went on duty March 14, 1806. It was in trouble within a very short time; for in an encounter in May of the same year the police were overpowered by a number of rioters, dispossessed of their weapons and badly beaten. For this cowardice the force was formally deprived of its weapons by an ordinance of the city council. The grand jury joined in the popular denunciation of the new force for their failure to do their duty, and declared that the city was "at the mercy of brigands to loot and pillage at pleasure." The grand jury cited a very strong case to support the denunciation — that of a man murdered in the Fauxbourg Ste. Marie, whose body was left lying where it fell for three days, until buried by charitable persons. The next council decided that the city was wasting money on such a police force, and reduced it to eight men, restoring the militia patrols, and thus going back to the military system, the civic police having failed after two years' trial. The chief of the city guard was placed in charge of the militia patrol, who were designated as "constables."
This condition of affairs continued for fourteen years, and was found generally satisfactory. As the city grew in size, the constabulary force was in- creased, and in 1822 it consisted of fifty men, who patrolled the city at night in small squads. This police force, like the fire department, was voluntary and composed of private citizens.
With the division of the city into three municipalities, the patrol was gradually abolished and the constabulary increased, each section having its captain and high constable.
The marauding of the "levee rats" on the freight on the river front led, in 1851, to the organization of a levee police force of nine men, under a sergeant.
In 1852 the three municipalities and the City of Lafayette (now the fourth municipal district) were consolidated into one government, and John Youennes was appointed the first chief of police of the entire city. Under this charter the mayor was constituted the head of the police force of the city, with power to appoint officers, to make regulations and to exercise general control over the police.
This was the condition of affairs up to the time of the Civil War. The occupation of New Orleans by the military force under Gen. B. F. Butler suspended all civil government. The city was placed under martial law, the police were superseded by the soldiers, and the head of the police department was the provost marshal, an army officer detailed for that purpose. The violation of ordinances or regulations was punished with severe imprisonment or transportation to Ship Island, or some other of the military prisons established by Gen. Butler.
With the restoration of civil government in Louisiana in 1866, under Mayor John J. Monroe, a police force was reorganized, a large proportion of whom were veterans of the Confederate army. This force figured very conspicuously in the Mechanics' Institute riot of 1866, and an investigation was made into the matter, which resulted in finding that the police had done their duty, and that tire riot was caused by the negroes who were taking part in the convention.
With the establishment of the Republican government in 1868 the entire police system of New Orleans was again changed, and the force again reverted to the military system. The act organizing the metropolitan police force of New Orleans, which was changed and amended from time to time, practically created a military force very similar to the Praetorian guards in the days of the Roman Empire. The force was very much increased, amounting at one time to 800 men. It was reorganized and well paid, so as to get men on it who were willing to fight, and a very considerable portion of the force consisted of veterans of the Civil War, both from the Union and Confederate armies. The police, while bearing only side arms when on ordinary duty, owned rifles and even Gatling guns and other cannon ; and the arms apportioned among the states by the general government were given to them rather than to the militia. In fine, the police practically superseded the militia, under the title of the "Metropolitan Brigade," although a nominal militia force was kept up independent of them. As a militia the metropolitan police force was of great convenience to the de facto state government, as it was well disciplined and continuously on duty. The men were chosen with care and well equipped. There was a considerable mounted police force, which served as cavalry. In the subsequent difficulties which grew out of the dual state government, when New Orleans was for several years in a state of civil war, the police were frequently called on to make expeditions to the neighboring parishes to suppress popular movements that refused to recognize the de facto (Kellogg) state government or to pay taxes to it. A steamer was purchased for the purpose of making this expedition, thereby constituting the nucleus of a navy; The police thus became both army and navy, the army being divided into infantry, cavalry and artillery.
Under the several laws passed in regard to the metropolitan police, they were constituted a state militia and given power and jurisdiction throughout the state, becoming in their power very like the Royal Irish constabulary, the situation in Louisiana at the time being very similar to that of Ireland when a large part of the population refused to recognize the government. There is no counterpart in the United States to the metropolitan police force of New Orleans from 1868 to 1877 — not even in the other Southern States where reconstruction was going on ; and the situation in Louisiana, with two state governments, was sui generis and different from that of its neighbors.
"The Metropolitans," as the police were called, were used in several military movements to suppress popular uprisings and establish the authority of the Kellogg government. They were sent to St. Martin's, where the people under Gen. Alcibiade de Blanc maintained their allegiance to the McEnery state government. This country campaign was a failure. A condition of actual war prevailed in the parish of St. Martin for some weeks, but the Metropolitans made no headway; and Gen. de Blanc finally surrendered to the United States marshal, but refused to recognize the Metropolitans or state constabulary. In New Orleans the police were at first somewhat more successful. They captured the building occupied by the McEnery government as a legislative hall, and they dispersed the citizen militia who had assembled in Jackson Square for the purpose of establishing the McEnery state government by force of arms; but in the battle on the levee, at the foot of Canal street, on September 14, 1874, the power of the Metropolitans was completely broken. Under the command of Generals A. S. Badger and James Longstreet, the Metropolitans, some 600 strong and with several cannon, Gatling guns and Napoleons, marched to Canal street to disperse the White League and similar organizations which sought to overthrow the Kellogg state government and establish that of McEnery. The result was a battle equal to many unfortunate engagements in actual warfare. The Metropolitans were defeated, losing some sixty-odd men, killed and wounded. Among the latter was the commander, Gen. Badger, while the citizen soldiery lost eighteen killed and a number wounded. Most of the other Metropolitans surrendered, and the next day, with the capture of the State House and Armory, the Kellogg government was dissolved. This defeat broke the power of the Metropolitans. With the restoration of the Kellogg government on May 17, 1874, the Metropolitans were reorganized, but as a city police force, not as a state constabulary. They made no more expeditions to the country, and they no longer attempted to act as militia. In the subsequent capture of the Supreme Court buildings by the citizens' soldiery, on January 9, 1877, they made no resistance, nor during the long siege of the State House (afterward the Hotel Royal) did they attempt any military movements.
After the breaking up of the Metropolitans New Orleans was for a short time without any police whatever, and police duty was done by the citizens' soldiery. It was practically martial law, and the peace and order of the city was never better preserved or crimes and misdemeanors more infrequent.
With the establishment of the Nicholls government in 1877 the Metropolitan police force was abolished and a new force organized. Few of the old members were given service, so strong was the popular hatred of the Metropolitans, who had ruled with a high hand and most arbitrarily during their years of power. Nearly all the statutes giving the Metropolitans extraordinary power were repealed, and the force again became a police force in fact.
While the new police was in many respects a great improvement on the Metropolitan, many defects had crept in which soon showed how necessary was the reorganization on an entirely new basis. Under the existing ordinances the police were entirely under the control of the mayor, who as chief had the power of appointment and removal". With this power it was natural that politics should creep in, and that appointments should be made because of political services. The police exercised an important, if not a dominant, influence in primaries and elections, and, moreover, considerable corruption prevailed, especially in the matter of gambling, which at that time was tolerated, or at least overlooked, in New Orleans.
When, in 1888, a reform administiation went into power, it set to work at once to reform both the fire and the police departments, which were permeated with politics. Popular sentiment demanded a change, and strongly supported the bill introduced by Mr. Felix Dreyfous, member of the Legislature from the sixth ward of New Orleans, reorganizing the police force, which law was at once passed. It contained the provisions usual in most of the police laws of the large American cities. The mayor continued as commander-in-chief of the police, but the force was controlled and directed by a board of six commissioners, representing the several municipal districts of the city. This board was to formulate rules and regulations to try all delinquent officers, and to have the power to fine, suspend or remove officers for cause. All officers were appointed to the force after physical and other examinations as to their fitness, and were under civil service rules, and could not be removed without cause. Provision was also made for the establishment of a police pension fund.
The new law worked well, and the police board set vigorously to work to reorganize the force; this took nearly a year. All the officers had to stand examinations, physical and otherwise, and the unworthy and unfit were weeded out. The board, however, came in conflict with the mayor during this work, and a serious clash of authority resulted.
The practical experience in organizing the police force had disclosed several defects in the law. The police board met and suggested certain changes in this law in the direction of increasing their power. The mayor, Joseph A. Shakespeare, who had not received the law with favor, because it curtailed his power, proposed amendments which, while they continued the police commission, materially increased his powers. The controversy lasted some months, and found its way into the courts. A majority of the police commissioners were removed by the mayor and new members of the board appointed. The Stat Supreme Court, however, overturned this action and restored the commissioners who bad been removed; and the Legislature amended the law, as the police board had asked that it be amended. It was a triumph of the principle of the government of the police by a commission instead of a single individual — the triumph of the principle of the civil service as opposed to the political system which had been in operation previously.
It was during this period of strife between the mayor and council that an event occurred which stirred New Orleans to a pitch of frenzy, caused more or less excitement throughout the country and led the United States into serious diplomatic difficulties and even into the possibility of a foreign war. This was the assassination of the newly- appointed chief of police, D. C. Hennessey, by members of the Mafia, on the night of October 15, 1890, and led to the Parish Prison lynching the next year, for which Italy made demands for reparation of the United States.
The dispute between Mayor Shakespeare and the Police Board in 1890 settled the question of the control of the police. The Mayor abandoned his resistance to the law, and it was universally recognized that the force had greatly improved in morale, efficiency, and in every other way since the change in the system, and the adoption of civil-service rules for its control. Differences, however, crept up from time to time between the Police Board and the several mayors as to the limit of power between them. Thus Mayor Fitzpatrick, who succeeded Shakespeare, quarelled with the board over the appointment of civil officers for the police courts, and in 1894 brought action to secure the removal of the commissioners. The court decided against him and thus entrenched the board in power and fixed the limits of its authority.
The original police act of 1888 had been amended in 1890, and was still further amended in 1896, in order to make it clear and cover all the disputed points which had led to the differences between the mayor and board. The last police act provided how the commissioners night be removed by legal proceedings, authorized the mayor to appoint emergency officers without pay, altered the qualifications of the police force, changed the examination board for promotion from a committee appointed by the superintendent of police to a committee appointed by the board, made the decision of the board final in all eases and not subject to revision, prohibited policemen from engaging in other pursuits, and finally set aside a portion of the police a])appropriation to the pension fund. It was a move in the right direction, tended to make the police force still more independent and free from politics. It will be thus seen that the police of New Orleans have been through every possible status. It has been a volunteer force, a military force (a detail from the army), a constabulary, a genuine municipal police, to revert back to the militia system, again to a city police, and finally to adopt the principles of civil service, under the control of a board, the force being responsible to the mayor yet independent, to a large extent, from the legislation and interference of the council and city government.
The police pension fund was established by the act of 1888, reorganizing the police force. It provides a pension for the widows of all officers who may lose their lives in the performance of their duties, and had in 1900 eleven families on the pension roll.
The Police Mutual Benevolent Association was organized in 1893. By voluntary contributions to the fund of this association, police officers receive so much per day when sick, and a gross amount is paid to their families in the event of death. It received and disbursed $31,511 during the six years 1893-99.
— STANDARD HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT, By Norman Walker
MUNICIPAL AND MILITARY HISTORY
EDITED BY HENRY RIGHTOR
THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO, 1900
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