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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930
Chapter 3: Crime

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[This information is from pp. 99-128 of Electric City Immigrants: Italians and Poles of Schenectady, N.Y., 1880-1930 by Dr. Robert R. Pascucci (State University of New York at Albany, Department of History, 1984). It is copyrighted by Dr. Pascucci and reproduced here with his permission. It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 325.24 PAS.]

Legend has it that the 114 Frenchmen and ninety-six Indians that arrived before the gates of Schenectady on the night of February 8, 1690, found only two snowmen guarding the frontier settlement. Within a couple of hours, the invaders killed sixty and left the burning village with twenty-seven prisoners. Few towns have experienced such dramatic episodes to emphasize the need for proper security. Throughout the period of colonial warfare and later, during the American Revolution, Schenectady remained a precarious outpost on the frontier. (1)

With the incorporation of Schenectady as a city in 1798, a police force was established consisting of eight night watchmen and two chiefs, Carl and Andrew Rynex. To simplify the lines of authority the force was divided in two, each with its own chief, to patrol the two wards of the city. Armed with a five-foot staff and carrying a lantern, the night watchmen called out the hour at every street corner. Chiefs were paid fifty cents per night and night watchmen received thirty-seven and a half cents. Police were required to supply their own candles for the lanterns and provide wood for the stove in the watch house. The night watchmen were assigned a variety of duties that included returning stray slaves, for which masters were assessed fifty cents. Pranksters enjoyed stealing or vandalizing the oil lamps that householders kept over their doors at night. The morale of the young lads of Union College had to be looked after. Heavy fines awaited any adult responsible for student drinking or gambling, or who dared rent a room to students for "festival purposes." Study time had to be protected also. No such idle shows as theatrical exhibitions, puppet shows, "wire dances," or feats of horsemanship were allowed the Union scholar. Parents must have received much comfort to know that not only the college but the city officials and its police were so concerned about student welfare. (2)

The young toughs of the town, however, were not as careful to attend to the needs of the undergraduates on the hill. The police were kept busy settling these frequent scraps. In 1845 there was a rather spectacular fray that ended with large numbers being assisted out of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal brought economic vitality to the city and headaches to the police. At the canal basin could be found the hard drinking, brawling canalers that must have made the police nostalgic for the days of the oil lamp pranksters. Of course, few towns of ante-bellum America were free of fireman battles. Schenectady volunteers regularly held drills or contests which generally ended with the losing fire company claiming fraud and giving battle. Judge Austin A. Yates noted that "firemen of that day fought everything but fire." In 1848 this cycle of events was noteworthy only because the eventual fight escalated into a riot that grew in intensity and shifted locations throughout the city. Businesses closed and residents took refuge in their homes. Constables stood by helpless while "stones, curses and fists filled the air." With nightfall, the battle came to an end, the streets littered with battered and bleeding firemen. (3)

Each ward also had a constable who delivered legal papers for which he received a fee for each document served. In 1830 a high constable was appointed to supervise both constables and night watchmen. An organized and uniformed police force came in 1866 with the creation by the state legislature of the Capital District Police to serve Albany, Schenectady and Troy. Schenectady was made a precinct with seven policemen under the command of a sergeant. The loss of local control was not welcomed by city officials who refused to recognize or cooperate with the new force for almost a year. City fathers, however, continued to harbor ill feelings toward this independent force that had the audacity to arrest local judges Paige and Porter for failing to shovel snow off of their sidewalks. The state legislature disbanded the Capital District Police in 1870 and returned policing to the control of the city. Organization and uniforms remained, though, and the foundation was laid for the modern police department. During the thirty-two year administration (1872-1904) of Chief William D. Campbell, Schenectady police would face the challenge of the mass immigration to the industrializing city. (4)

The city was slow to provide the necessary funds to the police department for sufficient manpower to control the bourgeoning incidents of crime that attended the growing influx of laborers. The inadequacy of the police force was continually pointed out by Chief Campbell. Between 1887 and 1896, only two patrolmen were added, expanding the force from twelve to fourteen. Campbell ruefully observed that General Electric employed more night watchmen to guard its property than the city had police to protect the safety of its twenty-five thousand citizens. (5) With sections of his 1900 annual report titled: "The Peace of the City," and "Increase the Police Force," it was obvious what was upper most in Campbell's mind. The anxious chief informed the police commissioners that it had also become necessary to police the peripheral sections of Schenectady, such as Mount Pleasant, Bellevue, Upper State Street and Scotia — an area containing approximately seven thousand people. (6)

Although the commissioners had responded to the chief's pleas and increased the force to twenty-one by 1900, Campbell reiterated that modern police standards demanded one patrolman for every one thousand of population. To demonstrate how undermanned and poorly financed his department was, Campbell provided data that showed Schenectady, compared to eighteen other city police departments, spent the least amount of money per capita and maintained the smallest number of officers for the size of its population (see Table 3.1).

Table 3.1

Police Protection in Selected Cities
CityPopulationTotal No. PolicemenPopulation to OfficerCost/ Capita
Hudson, NY10,00081,250$ .70
New Rochelle, NY15,000131,154.93
Niagara Falls, NY19,457316281.20
Cohoes, NY25,000171,470.72
Poughkeepsie, NY25,000221,136.88
Newburg, NY25,000211,190.84
Taunton, Mass.31,036358571.29
Canton, Ohio30,662251,226.74
Bay City, Mich.30,000261,156.76
Chelsea, Mass.35,000271,296.98
Binghamton, NY38,647371,226.76
Holyoke, Mass.45,712461,000.99
Utica, NY56,383401,396.79
Springfield, Mass.62,000621,0001.03
Troy, NY75,0001007501.20
Hartford, Conn.80,0001097401.53
Albany, NY95,0001615901.60
Syracuse, NY115,0001308391.11
Schenectady, NY31,682211,508.63
Average1,074$ .98

Source: Adapted from data in Report of the Chief of Police, 1901, p. 33.

Additional patrolmen were soon hired in an attempt to keep pace with the city's mounting population which grew 129.8 percent between 1900 and 1910 — the greatest ten-year gain in Schenectady's history. The ratio of police to population improved during the decade from 1:1,500 to 1:1,200. Nonetheless, Chief James Rynex, who succeeded Campbell in 1904, observed that Schenectady was "not as well protected as her sister cities," and urged (as Campbell frequently had) further appointments until the proper ratio of 1:1,000 was attained. (7)

Despite the chief's dissatisfaction, Table 3.2 shows that the number of arrests per thousand had declined from a decennial high in 1890. Although it cannot be determined whether the increasing presence of police discouraged potential offenders and, hence, reduced crime in the city, department officials clearly believed that it did. Following a substantial enlargement in the size of the force, police officials often reported a decline in the total number of arrests made, compared to the preceding year, in an apparent attempt to attest to the greater efficiency of the department. For example, Chief Rynex observed, in the same paragraph of his 1908 report, that the force had grown by sixteen officers for a total of seventy-eight, and that the total number of arrests had actually decreased by 534 over the previous year. (8) This method of evaluating performance was at variance with those late-nineteenth century police departments studied by David Johnson which judged the competence of officers and department by the number of arrests made, believing that increased arrests spelled greater efficiency. (9)

Table 3.2

Ratio of Arrests Per Thousand of Population
 PopulationArrestsRatio
189019,9021,1261:57
190031,6821,3931:44
191072,8262,2941:32

Source: Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1890, Schenectady Police Archives; Report of Chief of Police, 1901, p. 24; "Report of Bureau of Police," Proceedings of the Common Council, 1910, Reports, II, 158.

Although it is unclear whether the reduction in the proportion of arrests rendered Schenectady a safer city, the arrest statistics do, however, indicate that industrial expansion and the coming of the Italians and Poles did not effect a crisis in law enforcement. Certainly, Schenectady did not become a more dangerous place to live (see Table 3.3).

Table 3.3

Distribution of Total City Crime
 Crimes Against Persons & PropertyCrimes Against Public OrderMiscellaneous
No.PercentNo.PercentNo.Percent
188013823.440268.1508.5
189418521.747655.919122.3
190030521.974853.734024.4
191051622.51,15050.162827.4

Source: Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1880, 1894; Report of Chief of Police, 1901, p. 24; "Report of the Bureau of Police," Proceedings of the Common Council: 1910, Reports, II, 157-158.

Despite the pressures of industrialization and immigration, the proportion of more serious offenses (crimes against persons and property) remained essentially unchanged. Similarly, crimes against public order (intoxication, creating a disturbance and vagrancy) failed to increase. In fact, a significant drop of 12 percent occurred between 1880 and 1894, followed by a small but steady decline thereafter. Only in the miscellaneous category, which consisted in large measure of petty city ordinances, did a sharp increase occur. But this upswing took place (1880-1890) before the heavy influx of Italians and Poles began.

Even though Schenectady, during its so-called "golden era" (1880-1930) appeared to be a relatively well-policed and safe city, the question may be asked: Were the different groups that inhabited the city equally law abiding? Before examining the specific impact that the Italians and Poles had on the peace of the city, it is useful to examine arrest patterns on the eve of Schenectady's industrial and population boom.

Schenectady was actually more of an immigrant city before the arrival of the Italians and Poles. In 1865, 28.2 percent of the total population consisted of immigrants, a proportion that remained unsurpassed even during the subsequent years of large-scale immigration (see Table 3.4). Together, the 937 Germans and the 819 Irish comprised 75 percent of these so-called "old" immigrants. Thereafter, their proportion of the total population declined, 23.7 percent in 1870 and 19.9 percent in 1880. (10) Table 3.5 shows that the foreign born were not a particularly troublesome lot in 1880. Constituting 19.9 percent of the city's population, they accounted for 23.9 percent of the arrests.

Table 3.4

Percent of Foreign Born in Schenectady
YearTotal PopulationForeign BornPercent
18658,3182,34328.2
187011,0262,61423.7
188013,6552,71919.9
189019,9024,38222.0
190031,6827,16922.6
191072,82618,63125.6
192088,72320,49023.0
193095,69220,16121.1

Source: New York State, Report of the 1865 Census, pp. 158-159; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Ninth Census: 1870, I, 217; Tenth Census: 1880 Report on the Social Statistics of Cities, Part I, p. 635; Eleventh Census: 1890. Miscellaneous Documents, II, 655-656; Twelfth Census: 1910. Population, III, 260; Fourteenth Census: 1920. Population, III, 720; Fifteenth Census: 1930, Population, III, Part 2, 390-391.

Table 3.5

Foreign Born Arrests 1880
 Population%Arrests%
Native Born10,93679.144976.1
Foreign Born2,71919.914123.9
Total13,655 590 

Source: U.S. Census, Tenth Census: 1880, I, 217; Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1880.

Beginning in the 1880s, Italians and Poles made their first appearance in the arrest books of the Schenectady Police Department. The difficulties of these newcomers aroused the interest and amusement of Schenectadians. An Evening Star reporter, seeking to humor his readers, expressed sympathy for a newly arrived organ grinder ("a dark skinned signor") whose monkey bit an admiring child. Kicked by the child's father, the bewildered Italian was arrested, jailed and fined. An article entitled "Stefano Loves Susan," told of the arrest of an Italian for abduction following his attempt to elope with a sixteen-year-old. The girl (of native-born parents) was characterized as having become "infatuated with her dusky skinned neighbor." The Poles also fell victims of this biting humor of the press. A young Pole, "Roman of Posen," was said to have been arrested on a "delicate charge" of having established with a Polish girl "criminally intimate relations with the usual result." (11)

Regarded as completely unintelligible, Italian and Polish names were rarely spelled correctly. The Evening Star reported the arrest of "Giuseppe something-or-other" and a Frank "Red-eye" which the article said was as near as police could catch his name. Often desk sergeants did not even make an attempt at spelling immigrant names. In the case of railroad employees, who wore badge numbers, the sergeant would write, for example,"#281" in the arrest book in place of a name. Attempting to be more specific, the officer recorded such designations as "464 Italian" or "Frank #263." For those without badges, the desk sergeant provided such identifications as "Mike Doak" or "Italian John" and, for Poles, "Polander John" or "Polander Jane." Occasionally the police, in a playful mood, assigned surnames (dripping with Schenectady's heritage) such as "Mike Van Veit" and "John and Mary Yates." The police even had difficulty in recording accurately immigrant nationalities. Sergeant Hallenbeck managed to spell the word, Italian, three different ways in the arrest book, all incorrectly — "Italion," "Italien," and "Italan." (12)

During these early years, the Schenectady press reported incidents of immigrant law breaking in considerable detail. For the entertainment of their readers, the newspapers rarely missed the opportunity to print an Italian's comments in his broken English. Headlines blared, for example: "Me Kill-A You" and "Me Take-A You Life." One witness was quoted as calling a suspected individual a "badamana" and the immigrant who was about to assault a patrolman reportedly yelled, "disa mana softa meat." (13)

While the majority of Schenectady's foreign-born population in 1900 still consisted of "old" immigrants, particularly German and Irish (see Table 3.6), immigrants from southern and eastern Europe became dominant by the end of the decade. The Italian and Polish proportion of the foreign born rose sharply from 24.2 percent to 42.3 percent. The arrest statistics for 1900 indicate that the newcomers, however, were no more troublesome than the other foreign born, a large percentage of whom had arrived in Schenectady since the 1880s and were employed in the more skilled positions at General Electric and American Locomotive (see Table 3.7).

Table 3.6

Foreign Born in Schenectady 1900
 NumberPercent
Canada — English2823.9
Canada — French1572.2
England6328.8
Germany2,31632.3
Hungary691.0
Ireland1,10315.4
Italy6078.5
Poland1,12515.7
Other87812.2
Total7,169100.0

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census: 1900, Population, II, 800-801.

Table 3.7

Comparison of Arrests By Nativity 1900 & 1910
 19001910
PopulationArrestsPopulationArrests
U.S.24,5131,03154,1951,337
 77.4%74.0%74.4%58.3%
Italian607593,660277
 1.9%4.2%5.0%12.1%
Polish1,125854,221238
 3.6%6.1%5.8%10.4%
Other Foreign Born2,01821810,750442
 6.4%15.6%14.8%19.2%
Total Foreign Born Population7,16936218,631957
 22.6%26.0%25.6%41.7%
Total City Population31,6821,39372,8262,294

Source: Arrests and Dispositions, 1900; Report of Chief of Police, pp. 31-32; "Report of the Bureau of Police," p. 152; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census: 1900. Population, II, 800-801; Thirteenth Census: 1910. Population, III, 260; U.S. Manuscript Census, 1910.

In 1910, however, the arrest rate of the native born declined from the previous decade, while that of the Italians and Poles increased. During this time, the skilled workmen, native and foreign born, were abandoning the downtown wards for the newer residential areas. In the older congested neighborhoods, the police concentrated their patrols which yielded large numbers of arrests of Italians and Poles. It should also be recalled that the "new" immigrants had a much higher proportion of adult males in their population than both the "old" immigrants and the native born. The 1910 federal census reveals that, while voting-age males comprised 28.6 percent of the native-born population, they made up 51.3 percent of the foreign born. The native born, who comprised 61.9 percent of all adult males in the city, accounted for 58.3 percent of the arrests; and the foreign born, consisting of 38.1 percent of the males, accrued 41.7 percent of the arrests. (14) Table 3.7 seems to show that between the Italians and Poles, the former had a greater proportion of culprits. Although the Poles in Schenectady outnumbered the Italians in 1910, arrests were greater among the Italians (277 Italian to 238 Polish). The discrepancy between the two groups is reduced by the fact that the Italian community contained a larger proportion of adult males than the Polish, 64.1 to 55.5 percent, respectively. (15)

Table 3.8

Percentage Distribution of Crimes by Nationality 1910
 Against PersonAgainst PropertyIntoxicationDisorderly ConductMisc.Total
United States6.113.330.69.041.0100.0
Italian27.113.06.911.641.4100.0
Polish18.913.414.323.929.5100.0
Irish5.73.650.717.122.9100.0
Other Foreign Born9.98.625.719.736.1100.0
Total
(N=2,294)
10.412.126.612.738.2100.0

Source: Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1910.

Although the Italians and Poles were apparently no more disorderly than other males in the city, the public received the opposite impression from the city newspapers. The annual arrest statistics, usually reprinted in the press, seemed convincing evidence that the Italians and Poles were problems. The 1910 report revealed that the two immigrant groups together accounted for 22.5 percent of the arrests that year. Sensationalized reporting detailed their scrapes with the law. Stories about Italian crime often carried such lurid headlines as, "Stabbed By A Dago," "War In Italy," "An Italian Revenge," and "Murderous Italian Captured." (16) Even those who defended the new immigrants and sought to prove that their arrival did not spell an increase in serious crime, believed that the immigrants, including old immigrants such as the Irish and Germans, had "something in the racial character" that predisposed them to commit certain crimes. Acting from strong emotions and passions, Italians were thought to be "preeminent in crimes of violence," while Poles were "addicted" to crimes against chastity. Table 3.8 does indeed offer support for the belief that the different groups could be identified with particular kinds of offenses. An exceptionally high proportion of Italian arrests were for assault. Of all Italians arrested in 1910, 27.1 percent were on that charge. When Italians got into fights, serious wounds were often inflicted. Italians accounted for 40.3 percent of the felony arrests during one three-year period (see Table 3.9). Eighty percent of these Italian felonies were assaults in the first degree, the result of a shooting or stabbing. One weaponless suspect was arrested by the police who assumed "every Italian carries a knife, or dirk." Obviously, it was reasoned, the one left at the scene of the crime must be his. Influenced by a campaign conducted by the police in New York City to clean the streets of individuals carrying concealed weapons, the Evening Star speculated, in an editorial entitled "Must Enforce Law" that

If judges care anything for the public welfare, they will enforce the law in such a manner that it will strike terror into the hearts of the treacherous persons who travel like a walking arsenal. (17)

That same year (1910) the Schenectady police arrested nineteen individuals for carrying a concealed weapon — twelve Italians, one Pole and six native born. Sentences ranged from one to six months in jail. (18)

Table 3.9

Felony Crimes Against Person, 1908-1910
 Murder / ManslaughterAssault (1st Degree)Assault (2nd Degree)Rape / SodomyTotalPercent
United States28414(22.5)
Italian21218325(40.3)
Poles110112(19.3)
Other Foreign Born18211(17.7)
Totals315441062 

Source: Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1908-1910.

As assault was characteristic of Italian crime, disorderly conduct and breach of peace could be associated with Poles (see Table 3.8). While 12.7 percent of all arrests in 1910 were for disorderly conduct, 23.9 percent of Poles arrested were apprehended for that offense. The occasion for many of these charges stemmed from family squabbles that turned ugly or brawls that followed heavy drinking at christenings and weddings. Officer James Flannigan, who was on duty at a Polish wedding in 1898, must have set a fine example by getting into a fist fight with Sergeant Hallenbeck who accused him of not attending to his duties and enjoying the reception too much. Trouble often arose when the police attempted to enforce the Sabbath law. At one wedding reception, which continued into early Sunday morning, the police arrested first the two musicians and then the groom when he continued dancing with the bride. As strong objections arose, Officer Carmichael drew his revolver on the two hundred guests. (19)

Italian and Polish crime occurred largely within the immigrant quarters, affecting only the residents within. Boarding houses, filled with young, single males, were a chronic source of trouble. All too frequently did a middle-aged boarding house owner report the loss of his savings and his young wife. On one occasion, city officials complained about the expense of returning such a couple from Montreal. The shotgun murder of boarding house owner Andrew Gello in 1903 received considerable attention. Gello had complained that his twenty-two year old wife was "too free with the boarders." Though many were suspected, the crime went unsolved. (20) Boarding houses were also the sites of violent disputes over the amount of rent that was owed and the disappearance of personal possessions. One boarder, who was the treasurer of the local unit of the Polish Lancers, must have drawn suspicious looks when he reported the theft of the group's $125 funds from their banking place — his trunk. (21)

The greatest amount of trouble, however, originated in the saloons, where robberies, fights, knifings and shootings were all too frequent occurrences. The most notorious "plague spots" were in the Fifth Ward. Here one could find John Verra, "King of the Red Lights," and Jennie Salerno ("the terror"), "a corpulent but muscular woman," whose saloon had a "tough reputation even for the red light district." (22) As a center for "dives," and "houses of ill-repute," the Front Street area ranked a close second to that of the Fifth Ward. Located here, for example, were Raffaelo Negro's "resort of all bad Italians of the neighborhood" and Louis Farone's "disorderly house" on Monroe Street.(22) Being jailed for intoxication was much less common among Poles and especially Italians (see Table 3.8), but much of the misconduct that led to arrest was induced by alcohol. Of all Italian adults apprehended in 1910, 81.2 percent were judged intemperate, nearly matching the proportion for all individuals arrested that year. But for the Poles, the rate was even higher (91.5 percent). (23)

In a limited capacity the Schenectady police had employed Italians to help combat the growing incidence of crime within the immigrant community. Special agents John Memlo, "an Eye-talian Spy" and James Matarazzo were used to secure evidence against saloonkeepers who violated the Sunday closing law. Naturally they became unpopular figures and not infrequently suffered abuse, threats and assaults. (24) In 1904 the first Italian policeman was appointed — Diamante Ragucci. (25) Throughout his years of service, "Diamond" was Schenectady's most colorful and controversial policeman. During his early years on the force, Ragucci's dismissal was demanded several times. It was alleged that he had various interests and associations with red light activities. (26) Each time, however, Ragucci's "political connections" were strong enough to keep him on the force. On the occasion of Ragucci being thrown from his horse, which some said would eventually kill him, the Evening Star commented that "considering his pull," it would be the "only way the force will ever get rid of him." (27)

Beginning with his move out of the red light area, Ragucci's public image began to improve. In November of 1907 he was severely wounded while attempting to arrest the murderer Antonio Salvatore in John Verra's saloon. Overnight he became a hero. The police force offered a three hundred dollar reward for the capture of Salvatore and the city gladly paid Ragucci's five hundred dollar medical bill. (28) His subsequent travels to various cities to return fugitives to Schenectady were highly publicized. While in Utica testifying in a murder case, he added to his growing "state-wide" reputation by spurning a bribe. In 1910 Ragucci ("the Petrosino of the upstate police") was further rewarded by being appointed detective sergeant. (29) His long and eventful career, however, closed as it had begun — in controversy. In 1924 Ragucci was forced to retire on the grounds of physical disability. His "potential hernia," however, never developed. Many claimed that the administration chose this expediency to get rid of him, since they were unable to prove rumors implicating Ragucci in police corruption. (30)

Schenectady, like other cities with Italian communities, experienced a Black Hand scare. According to contemporary newspaper captions, one would assume that the tentacles of the sinister conspiracy were busily entwining the city: "The Black Hand Chasing Him;" "Black Hand Methods Almost Cause Murder;" "Black Hand Busy Here?" (31) Actually, the newspapers and police generally discounted the existence of a Black Hand in Schenectady. Rather, they chose to term as "Black Hand Methods" the petty extortion of money that was often committed in the streets of the immigrant quarters by individuals or small groups of men. Before the introduction of the term "Black Hand," criminals of this type were called "Cadets." They prowled the red light areas using phony badges to extort money from drunks, particularly newly arrived "green" ones. (32)

The most publicized "Black Hand" incident occurred in 1907. A former employee of General Electric named Williams maintained that as a result of uncovering a fraudulent insurance claim he began to receive in the mail, pencil-darkened paper hands and notes threatening his life. He further reported that he was constantly being followed and that two attempts had been made on his life. The police, doubtful of his story from the beginning, lost all interest when evidence was presented that Williams concocted the story in order to get a pistol permit. Others attempted to capitalize on the notoriety of the Black Hand. One Schenectady "Black-hander" sent the following message to Albert Lenta, the banker: I will burn your bank to the ground unless you send $10 in the enclosed envelope." (33) An attempted murder of Cosimo Laiello in 1909 prompted a "crusade against the Black Hand." Italians of "uncertain reputation" were being "watched all over the city." Ex-convicts and fugitives from Italy were charged with being "at the root of the blackmailings and murderous bands now terrorizing their countrymen. On learning that 25 percent of the convicts in Sing Sing, Auburn and Clinton state prisons were aliens, the Evening Star recommended that the foreigners be deported after finishing their terms. But despite the "crusade," extortions and blackmailings continued. (34)

The more serious and violent offenses that captured the attention of the press masked the fact that most of the immigrant arrests were for minor offenses. Appearing repeatedly in the arrest books were the names of immigrant men and women charged with petit larceny for stealing coal from trains and coal yards. Arrests of Poles for gambling occurred often. During a raid on a Polish saloon in 1900, the police seized the stakes of $1.10. The seven card players were later fined ten dollars each. (35) Some regarded the street musicians, who often played until late in the evening, a nuisance, and pressured the police to limit or prohibit their playing. On one occasion, the Daily Gazette sarcastically commented that their banishment from the streets created "consternation in Italian musical circles." The newspaper subsequently printed an unsigned letter that concluded:

I say by all means let us have the "Dago" and his hurdy gurdy to furnish us with enjoyment these hot summer evenings. (36)

John Rakoski, the first Polish policeman (appointed in 1907), performed his duties without the controversy that attended the work of his Italian counterpart. Rakoski helped "untangle many affairs which, although laws and ordinances have been broken, there was no intent to do wrong." His only attention from the press came when he enforced the periodic "crusade" of the city's food inspector against merchants suspected of adulturating milk, hot dogs, sausages and other foods. A majority of those arrested were Polish milk dealers, butchers and grocers. (37)

Despite the negative press image of the Poles and, particularly, the Italians, police and other public officials repeatedly proclaimed their "cosmopolitan" city safe. Former Police Justice Eisenmenger spoke well of the immigrants and remembered that not one Italian applied for charity during the Panic of 1893. Although a growing concern was expressed for the "half-Americanized" children of the immigrants, officials generally agreed that the foreign born were not a "criminal element." (38)

Notes — Chapter 3

  1. Police Manual and Textbook on Second Class City Government as it Relates to the City of Schenectady (Schenectady, 1917), p. 86.
  2. Joel N. Monroe, Schenectady: Ancient and Modern (Geneva, N.Y.: By the author, 1914), p. 235; Police Manual, p. 98.
  3. Ibid., pp. 88-89.
  4. Austin Yates, Schenectady County, N.Y.: Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth Century (New York: New York History Co., 1902), pp. 198-202; Larry Hart, Schenectady's Golden Era: 1880-1930 (Scotia: Old Dorp Books, 1974), pp. 147-148.
  5. Evening Star, January 30, 1896.
  6. Report of Chief of Police (Schenectady, 1901), pp. 31-32
  7. "Report of the Bureau of Police," Proceedings of the Common Council: 1910. Reports, II,152.
  8. "Report of the Bureau of Police," 1908, pp. 8-9.
  9. David R. Johnson, Policing the Urban Underworld: The Impact of Crime on the Development of the American Police, 1800-1887 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), 128-129.
  10. New York State, Report of the 1865 Census, pp. 158-159.
  11. Evening Star, May 19, 1880, August 15, 1884, June 16, 1890.
  12. Schenectady Police Department, Arrests and Dispositions, June 15, October 1, November 8, 1883, December 4, 1885; Evening Star, December 21, 1882, May 28, 1889, April 19, 1893.
  13. Evening Star, January 8, 1883, April 9, 1885, May 16, 1889, May 14, 1892, January 3, 1896.
  14. Jeremiah W. Jenks and W. Jett Lauck, The Immigrant Problem (New York: Funk, 1917), p. 29; U.S., Thirteenth Census: 1910. Population, III, 260.
  15. U.S. Federal Manuscript Census, 1910.
  16. Evening Star, June 16, 1890, July 12, 1893, December 12, 1900; Daily Union, April 18, 1892.
  17. Evening Star, October 13, 1890; March 25, 1910.
  18. Arrests and Dispositions, May 15, 31, July 17, October 25, 1910.
  19. Schenectady Police Department, Complaints and Blotter, January 1, 1896, February 15, 1903, March 19, 1904, (these and Arrests and Dispositions volumes are located in the police archives); Evening Star, January 30, 1893, July 21, 1899, October 1, 1900; Schenectady Gazette, January 27, 1910.
  20. Evening Star, March 20, 1886, November 23, 1893, April 16-20, 1903.
  21. Ibid., December 10, 1896; Complaints and Blotter, October 12, 19, 1902.
  22. Evening Star, October 21, 1903, May 3, June 10, 1904, January 2, September 5, 1905.
  23. Compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1910; "Report of Bureau of Police," p. 151.
  24. Matarazzo, who was to be dismissed twice, was accused of protecting his criminal friends and blackmailing others; Evening Star, June 30, 1893, July 8, 1902, February 24, 1903.
  25. He was to be the only Italian on the force until Philip Bencivenga (a former fireworks manufacturer) reported for duty in 1913. Subsequent Italians appointed were Anthony Coppola (1920), Peter Aceto (1924), Albert Revella (1924) and Andrew P. Morone (1925); Union Star, April 4, 1913; The Record, April 17, 1925.
  26. Ragucci and his family lived over a saloon (79 Edison Avenue) in the red light district. It was said that Ragucci attempted to conceal his ownership of this "disorderly" saloon by a number of phony transfers. He seemed involved in so many activities that his police work was considered a "side issue," Evening Star, March 8, 1906, April 6, 1906, Daily Union, April 6, 1906.
  27. Evening Star, April 13, 1906.
  28. Ibid., October 16, 1907, January 10, 1908.
  29. Ibid., January 26, 1908, May 16, 1908, March 5, 1910; Petrosino was the New York City detective who headed a secret-service group commissioned to crush the city's Black Hand. He was fatally shot in Palermo, Sicily (1909), while investigating the supposed foreign ties of the Black Hand.
  30. Record, September 14, 1928, April 5, 1929; Schenectady Gazette, March 16, 1959 (obituary).
  31. Daily Union, February 18, 1907; Evening Star, February 26, 1911.
  32. Daily Union, July 29, 1905; Evening Star, March 18, 1905; Extortions of this type continued, but in 1907 the newspapers began referring to "Black Hand Methods" — for example see the report of a Black Hand gang of fifteen "preying on south Italians" in the Jefferson Street area, Ibid., February 14, 1907.
  33. Daily Union, February 16, 1906, June 25, 1909.
  34. Ibid., March 15, 1909; The Evening Star, February 25, 1911; Union Star, October 24, 1911, November 15, 26, December 12, 1913.
  35. Arrests and Dispositions, December 18, 1886, June 30, 1888, March 30, 1889. Of the 238 Poles arrested in 1910, nineteen (8 percent) were women; and of the 277 Italian arrests, sixteen (5.8 percent) consisted of women (compiled from Arrests and Dispositions, 1910); Daily Union, January 8, 1894, June 28, 1898; Evening Star, July 22, 1895, November 17, 1900.
  36. Daily Gazette, July 1,16, 17, 1901; Complaints and Blotter, June 23, 1904.
  37. Schenectady Gazette, November 25, 1907, June 20, 1903; The Citizen, September 26, 1913. Other Poles were appointed to the force in 1917 (Stephen Zaremba), 1919 (Adam Czarkowski) and 1923 (Joseph Jablonski), "Report of the Bureau of Police," 1925, p. 162.
  38. Eisenmenger quoted in Eliot Lord, The Italian in America (New York: B. F. Buck Co., 1905), pp. 214-215; "Report of the Bureau of Police," 1905, 1914, 1917.

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