Since then has come the era of the "single head" to the department, a manifest improvement, since it is always better to have one (even a bad) "boss" than many—even many good ones. In fact the "bosses" of New York's police force have seldom been bad—that is, as executives never, it may be said, incapable; even the worst of them could have been wonderfully efficient if he had so chosen. With his views as to the ends to be attained this paper does not deal; to those views he was very loyal. Loyal too, after quite a different fashion, have been the army men who have been in control. But loyalty to an ideal is one thing, leadership in any sphere of activity when the foundation principles are radically defective, quite another. If for no other reason than the complexity and multiplicity of duties devolving upon the head of the department some of these must inevitably be slighted or neglected. The chief-of-police (whatever his title or under whatever code of laws he serves) ought to be free of virtually all routine duty.
But the really radical defect in the plan of organization of the department as applied to the commissioner, the flagrant, vital defect, at odds with all practical efficiency, real strength, and "the eternal fitness of things," is that in his hands are concentrated powers that under the conditions are incongruous, that he combines in his own person executive, legislative and judicial functions. The system in vogue in London, whereby the chief is an absolute autocrat, having power of dismissal without appeal, is better than this. But neither conforms to the requirements of equity; no man should be held—even voluntarily—as another man's vassal, and no American citizen should be deprived of his just right to the final judgment of the courts of his country. Again, as the law stands the commissioner can be removed from office at any time and for any cause or no cause at the will, whim or caprice of either the mayor or the governor. Probably at some future time, if the laws remain as they are, this power of summary removal might not be undesirable; but certainly so insecure a tenure of office does not conduce to discipline. It renders the dignified office of commissioner something very like that of a lacquey, and that not to one master, but to two.
Comparison of the regular army with the police force shows most conclusively that for the latter there should be a legislative body, willing, to the same extent that congress is willing, to abstain from continual interferences, and to be guided largely by expert opinion derived from those who actually do the work and are familiar with practical conditions. Whether this body shall be similar to the old-time board of commissioners, whether the board of aldermen shall assume these duties, or a board constituted upon entirely new lines, these are matters demanding much thought and careful consideration. But, however this legislative body may be constituted, its function should combine those which
- Charter of the City of New York, Chapter VIII., Police Department.