Historical Notes

Print
Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

Yonkers Police Historical Notes

Lt. Jerome F. Linehan
1910 Bike
Our second Motorcycle Officer in the Yonkers Police Department

On July 12, 1906 the Yonkers Board of Police Commissioners reported they had purchased our first motorcycle, an "Indian" for $217.00 which included tools and a new device called a speedometer. We had been patrolling on foot, horseback and bicycle. However, with the surge of automobile ownership, speeding became a big problem. The speed limit in the city was 8 MPH, outlying streets allowed 15 MPH. Police bicycles could not catch the speeders but motorcycles could travel 50 MPH on level ground, and 30 MPH uphill. The motorcycle could corner without slowing down, whereas auto's had to slow down in the turns or they would simply turnover.

Our first Motorcycle Officer was Patrolman Joseph Vansteenburgh who was appointed December 1, 1901. He worked 9am to 5pm and could always catch a speeder on Warburton Ave. Also, with his speedometer he never lost in court.

Vansteenburgh, who retired as a Lieutenant in 1922 and died in 1964, watched the number of motorcycles rise to about 20 "Indians" before he retired. Although Harley Davidsons were very popular, the Yonkers Police Department didn't buy their first Harley until 1949: but that's another story...................

* Note: Thanks to a message (e-mail) we received from the granddaughter of Lt. Jerome F. Linehan we now have properly identified the above photo as Lt. Jerome F. Linehan. Our second Motorcycle Officer in the Yonkers Police Department.

Longest Serving Member of YPD Officer Henry Cooley
Officer Henry Cooley, passed away December 16, 1929. He was a veteran police officer of our department having served almost 50 years. Lacking but a few months of a half century, Officer Cooley saw service under every commander of the department from John Mangin to Edward Quirk. He served during the administrations of 20 Mayors, under many police boards, under every Public Safety Commissioner the city has had since adopting its form of government.

When Officer Cooley, a young man of 23 years, was appointed to the police force, Yonkers was a city of but 18,892 inhabitants, as compared to a city of over 200,000 today. There were horse cars then and stage coaches, the telephone was just becoming known. He saw the city grow and develop, its industries extend and multiply. The Machine age had taken effect during his life. When he started, most of the local pioneers of industry in Yonkers, were in their full vigor and all excepting Alexander Smith were alive.

Henry Cooley joined a police force of 29 and died as a member of a force of 288 men. He saw many brother officers retire and pass away. He knew each one personally and his record in the department. He served during the city's worst crime era's and industrial disturbances, and saw the department perform its greatest deeds. He knew the best men on the job and those less fortunate members, and why. He emulated the best and avoided the others mistakes.

Officer Cooley saw service to the day before his death. He virtually died in his uniform. He asked no preferences. He was thrifty, honest man who saved his money, became a tax paying member of the community and reflected credit on the department. He never sought advancement. He did his work and looked for no favors. During his long tenure, a record of no charges against him, during that long period, and late but once, reflect his character, his reliability and devotion to duty. 

Yonkers Police Department Band
The year was 1902. A time in our department when a very long working chart was a fact of life. Our only precinct was headquarters located on Wells and Woodworth Avenues. Those men who completed their regular tour on patrol were excused to go for a one hour meal break and then return to headquaters to do a "dog watch", or reserve duty. Basically, a double tour, only they did not get paid for the second tour and they would have to remain in the headquarters dormitory area in case of an emergency.

As a result of the many hours spent on reserve duty, with little to do to pass the time, then Patrolmen Dennis Cooper and Timothy Linehan brought in a flute and violin to play while waiting in reserve. After a few days, other officers brought in guitars, trombones, cornets, mandolins, etc. After a short time, a band was formed consisting of sixteen men. It was unclear whether they ever performed in an offical department capacity, but they continued to play as a band for about five years, and around 1907 it fazed out of existence.

In 1927 a suggestion was made to reorganize the Yonkers Police Band, but to no avail. The original members were as follows: Patrolmen Cooper, Linehan, William Healey, George Cougle, Tom Kennedy, William Egan, Edgar Buckout, John Healy, William Cunningham, Patrick Flood, and Tom Kiley, Sergeants George Cooley and Hugh Brady, Roundsman Edward Connolly, and Doorman John Carey.

Yonkers Police Association Gala, 1917
On February 15, 1917, one year following the organization of the "Yonkers Police Association" in 1916, the Y.P.A. held an entertainment and dance reception at Philipsburgh Hall on Hudson Street. The event was scheduled several months earlier but had to be postponed due to a strike by trolley car operators. This strike caused our Yonkers Police Officers to work many extra hours. (No overtime was paid in those years.) When the reception was held, nearly 1200 people attended filling every seat in the hall, including most standing room. Lt. Dennis Cooper, Chairman of the arrangements committee, estimated that the gross receipts exceeded $3,000. Whatever remained after expenses would be donated to the Yonkers Police Pension Fund.

The hall was decorated with evergreens and potted ferns. American flags were draped conspicuously. Over the stage was a photograph of Public Safety Commissioner James J. Fleming, on either side of which an American flag was draped. All police officers were directed to be present in dress uniform, and as the newspaper reported, "Their presence added a touch of the Military." Each person who attended received a souvenir program and a metal badge, on which were the words, "Police Headquarters 4900." This was the 4 digit telephone number of our department at the time, the 963 exchange would not come for many years. All guests of the Police Association were presented with blue ribbons. No doubt, Police Association President Patrolman John J. Dahill welcomed everyone to the gala event.

Vaudeville entertainment began at 9:00 PM and lasted until 11:00 PM. The entertainers were said to be "high class", with banjo music by the Bolger Brothers; Comedy by "Duffy Rise" and Leonard and Whitaker; and songs by many, including former Police Officer William O'Mara. Following the entertainment, the chairs were all moved to open a dance floor where many danced until the early morning hours to the music of Walsh's Orchestra. Refreshments, "solely of the light sort", were available throughout the evening on the lower floor.

The hall was not only filled with nearly the entire Yonkers Police Department, but also present were local and state politicians, representatives of the fire department, the judiciary, influential businessmen with their wives, and other prominent citizens. Lt. Dennis Cooper and his committee apparently did an outstanding job, as was evidenced by the number of people who wanted to attend. It is also worthy of note that the program that was distributed contained a memoriam for the three police officers who died the previous year: Capt. George Cooley from a heart attack, and Police Officers Dennis McElroy and Wilfred Matthews, both of whom died in the line of duty only weeks apart. I think that this party of 1200, hosted by the Police Association was, even by today's standards, an outstanding success.

Our First Female Detective? Policewoman Helen J. O'Lear
Deputy Chief George Rutledge (ret.)
President Yonkers Police Historical Society

Toward the end of World War II, on June 21, 1944, Mrs. Helen J. O'Lear of 72 Buena Vista Avenue, was one of two of the City's first women ever to be sworn in as a Policewoman in the Yonkers Police Department. Mrs. Helen C. Murray was appointed at the same time. Their positions were termed "temporary war appointments" and were scheduled to last only for the duration of the war. These positions, which took effect July l, 1944, were only provisional as no test had been taken by either of the women.
Policewoman O'Lear, whose annual salary was set at $ 1600, was issued the standard issue police shield # 260. She was also issued a .32 cal. two inch barrel revolver. Her uniform was simply to wear a navy blue two piece suit with a white blouse. Her revolver was carried in her purse. O'Lear and Murray were both assigned to attend a course of instruction at the NYPD Policewomen's Bureau. In addition, in January, 1945, both women were enrolled in a police training school at Syracuse University. This was said to be the first of its kind in the country to be held at a University.
Upon returning from school, O'Lear was assigned to the Detective Bureau without holding the rank of detective. A short time later Policewoman O'Lear would be assigned to the Juvenile Aid Bureau where she would work closely with the PAL. At some point, she was allowed to carry detective shield #4, even though she was never "officially" a detective. During her eight years of service, there was never a certified civil service list to appoint a "permanent" policewoman. In 1952 such a list was established. Being too old to take the test, her name was not on it. By law, Plwn. O'Lear could no longer hold her position. On September 30,1952, her provisional position was abolished and her employment with the Yonkers Police Department was terminated.
Upon her leaving the Department, the Public Safety Commissioner commended Mrs. O'Lear on her excellent service to the citizens of Yonkers. "Policewoman" O'Lear never held the civil service title of Policewoman or Police Officer, and was never officially elevated to the position of detective. Question: Was she our first female police officer and our very first female police detective as well?