1934 November 27

NYC Police Commissioner Tells Officers to “Muss Up” Known Criminals


New York City Police Commissioner Lewis W. Valentine, it was reported on this day, told his officers to “muss up” and “mark up” known racketeers and murderers. The Commissioner’s remarks were given in private at a line up of detectives, but he expressed no regret that they had become public. “We have two-fisted, red-blooded men” on the force, he argued, and added that he would not let them be”hampered in their dealings with law breakers.”

His remarks were criticized by police chiefs in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities. The New York Civil Liberties Union declared that his order to the detectives would lead to “official lawlessness.”

The first significant breakthrough on curbing police misconduct was the U.S. Wickersham Commission report, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, released on August 10, 1931, which found that the “Third Degree,” or forcing confessions from arrestees was “widespread.”

Police misconduct continued. In 1961, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found police brutality to be a “serious problem” nationwide (November 17, 1961). The 1968 Kerner Commission report (February 29, 1968) documented police problems and the role of the police in the riots of the 1969s. And on March 4, 2015, the President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing called for sweeping reforms in policing.

Learn more about police misconduct today: Samuel Walker and Carol Archbold, The New World of Police Accountability, 2nd ed. (2014).

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