Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/471

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
467
NEW YORK'S TEN THOUSAND

be the manifest duty of the members of this commission to "read up" the entire subject, making themselves fully acquainted with the progressive steps by which the old-time watchman evolved into the municipal force, that having been displaced by the metropolitan police. They will find a continual rather than continuous progress towards better things in ways of organization, each commissioner having left something tending towards improvement; until, coming to the present time, a degree of practical efficiency is found probably nearly as great as under existing laws the force is capable of attaining.

But the present conditions can not be safely reckoned upon for continuance. The wide-spread and deplorable corruption that at times has disgraced the department may at any election return. The very efficiency, the very decency of the present administration may be the chief factor in bringing about a change far more likely to be for the worse than for the better. The spirit of that notorious and wonderfully able faction that for almost a full century has imposed its malign influence upon New York simply awaits a renewed opportunity. Not even four years of purest political and business methods can so dilute the foulness of the past as to make palatable the promise of the future. Do not mistake my meaning. The contest for good government in New York is not between democrats and republicans, nor is it between a faction of democracy and a coalition of opposed forces; nor is it surely between Tammany Hall and the so-called "better elements." It is in fact a phase of that interminable quarrel between the narrow "Puritan" and the broad "Cosmopolitan" ideas of civic administration; between a too tenuous ideality and practicality; that to legislate for the morals of the citizen, and to enact laws in their nature "sumptuary" will always fail of their high purpose. The limitations of enforcible authority ought to be recognized and never overstepped. The purpose of the police should be confined strictly to the preservation of the peace and the orderly and lawful maintenance of law and order. So long as human nature exists human infirmity will always evade human statutes. Smite vice if you will, but inevitably the harder it is smitten the wider will it be spattered, the more room will it find for contamination; it may be diffused; it can not be annihilated.

With overt crime the record of the department has not been entirely inglorious; but in dealing with the vicious propensities the results have been very far from successful. The reasons are notorious—the men "higher up," even perhaps the man highest up, for political ambition or the profit of the pocket, may have connived at or incited a system of paid-for immunity. At one time there has been extreme laxity, at another rigorous—and sometimes illegal—enforcement of arbitrary and unavailing laws. These concerning such iniquities as the saloons, the social evil and "gambling" in all its numerous forms have changed and