"COMMISSIONER ROOSEVELT: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt and the New York City Police, 1895-1897" by H. Paul Jeffers

"COMMISSIONER ROOSEVELT: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt and the New York City Police, 1895-1897"

Email this review


A fast-paced but toothless report on the crime-busting years of America's toothiest politician: scads of atmosphere and action, no critical bite. Jeffers, who has written histories of Scotland Yard (Bloody Business, 1992) and the FBI, turns here to the fin-de-siècle New York City Police Department, an organization rotten with corruption. Tammany Hall bosses pull the strings; promotion is based on patronage rather than merit; many on the 3,600-man force supplement their wages with blackmail, intimidation, and hush money. Into this mess strides the Rough Rider himself, Teddy Roosevelt -- naturalist, sportsman, writer, Harvard grad -- appointed president of the police commission in 1895. A self-described surgeon out to excise a festering gangrene, Roosevelt applies the scalpel mercilessly. He introduces merit promotions, bike patrols, and pistol training, hires the department's first woman employee, updates the telephone system, and enforces the laws with righteous vigor. Jeffers makes much of Roosevelt's famous smile, stocky build, courage, and gusto; one looks in vain for a wart in this worshipful portrait. There is a second hero to share the limelight: Jacob Riis, born in poverty -- here playing a predictable pauper to Roosevelt's prince -- whose newspaper exposÉs of social ills alert Roosevelt to the problems of the city's sordid underside. The clichÉd characters aren't enhanced by Jeffers's melodramatic prose, which features such tired phrases as ""mysterious characters"" and ""eagle-eyed sleuths."" Spirited accounts of police busts, steamy bordellos, and the like juice the action but never overcome the sense that this is a bully boy's adventure story enacted by grown-ups. (For a more scholarly tour of the 19th-century New York demimonde, see Eric Homberger's Scenes from the Life of a City, p. 904). Jeffers inverts Teddy's most famous saying with a book that walks loudly (lots of swaggering by the protagonist and others) and carries a small stick (nary a whack of dissent).

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1994
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Wiley