About the New
York Police Department
The first law-enforcement officer began to patrol the trails and paths of New York City when it
was known as New Amsterdam, and was a Dutch settlement and fort in the year 1625. This lawman was known as a "Schout
– fiscal" (sheriff – attorney) and was charged with keeping the peace, settling minor disputes, and warning
colonists if fires broke out at night. The first Schout was a man named Johann Lampo.
The Rattle Watch was a group of colonists during
the Dutch era (1609 - 1664) who patrolled from sunset until dawn. They carried weapons, lanterns and wooden rattles (that
are similar to the ratchet noisemakers used during New Year celebrations). The rattles made a very loud, distinctive sound
and were used to warn farmers and colonists of threatening situations. Upon hearing this sound, the colonists would rally
to defend themselves or form bucket-brigades to put out fires. The rattles were used because whistles had not yet been invented.
The Rattle Watchmen also are believed to have carried lanterns that had green glass inserts. This was to help identify them
while they were on patrol at night (as there were no streetlights at that time). When they returned to their Watch House from
patrol, they hung their lantern on a hook by the front door to show that the Watchman was present in the Watch House. Today,
green lights are still hung outside the entrances of Police Precincts as a symbol that the "Watch" is present and
When the High Constable of New York City, Jacob
Hays retired from service in 1844, permission was granted by the Governor of the state to the Mayor of the City to create
a Police Department. A force of approximately 800 men under the first Chief of Police, George W. Matsell, began to patrol
the City in July of 1845. They wore badges that had an eight-pointed star (representing the first 8 paid members of the old
Watch during Dutch times). The badges had the seal of the City in their center and were made of stamped copper.