June 16, 1857 | New York City Police Riot

 “Fight Between the Metropolitan and Municipal Police,” by Valerian Gribayedoff, 1887
 

“‘Mr. Mayor, here is an order for your arrest. It is in the hands of the sheriff of this county. I warn you that it is your duty as a law-abiding citizen to quietly submit to arrest.’

Mayor Wood stood up behind his desk, seized his staff of office, jammed it down defiantly and angrily on the floor, and exclaimed: ‘I will never submit!’”

—Excerpt from Recollections of a New York Chief of Police by George Washington Walling, 1887

Hundreds of rioters stormed city hall. Batons swung and fists landed as two angry mobs clashed outside on the front steps. The first mob was fighting to get inside the building while the second mob fought to block the doors. Meanwhile, the mayor hid in his office. In all the chaos, no one summoned the police. The rioters were the police. 

During the New York City Police Riot of 1857, two law enforcement agencies fought over which was the legitimate police force for the city. The first, Mayor Fernando Wood’s Municipal Police (“Munis”) had walked the beat since 1845. The Munis had become notoriously corrupt. Officers were known to accept bribes and participate in Tammany Hall voter fraud. Exasperated, the State of New York decided to disband the Munis and create a new force controlled by the state. This new agency was the Metropolitan Police (“Mets”).

Mayor Wood refused to dismiss the Munis, insisting the Mets had no right to enforce the law in his city. As a result, the two departments spent months claiming the same responsibilities. This led to chaos. Officers on both sides fought, stole property, and even broke into jails to release people being held by the other department. During this period, crime and violence spiked.

The police riot broke out when Officer George Washington Walling of the Mets attempted to arrest Mayor Wood for refusing to accept the governor’s appointment of a new street commissioner. Although initially outnumbered fifteen to one, the Mets eventually subdued the Munis with the aid of the 7th New York Militia. Mayor Wood was arrested and released the next day on bail. However, the problem of having two police forces was not resolved for months.

Eventually, the New York Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state—definitively ordering the Municipal Police to disband. After months of confusion, the city went back to having one police force—the Metropolitan Police.

Forty-one years after the police riot, the Mets were renamed. On January 1, 1898, New York City expanded to include the five surrounding boroughs. At that time, the Mets absorbed eighteen other police departments and became the New York City Police Department (NYPD).