“…a bond that will never be broken nor a journey forgotten.”
After my dad died in 1979 I’d think of him often. But it was always as my dad.
Now as I look through some documents and photos from his life on this planet, now as I’ve long passed the age he was when he died, I think of him also as a Brother.
My dad and I both made it to our seventies, we both were NYC Transit cops. He, for much longer than I, thirty-five years, 1931-1965, and me, a mere twenty-six 1966-1992.
I have come upon a trove of memorabilia, items being cleared from a house in which I used to live, items that were his from the steel dust days of early subway policing.
My dad was born in 1904. His dad, a trolley operator, died in 1917 when my dad was 13. I don’t know how his dad died, never asked him, nor did I ask much else of his early life.
It might be good for readers to consider asking for details about family, now…when they can be answered. Maybe this Thanksgiving as the extended family gathers, ask parents what their first job was, what their school was like, their first date. What did their parents do for a living? All the questions you might regret not asking later…when it is too late.
As was not unusual in the early 20th-century my dad left school at the age of 15 to help support his now widowed mom. One of my dad’s early jobs was repair of typewriters, he was 16 when this photo was taken of him in a typewriter repair shop in 1920:
My dad’s pre subway employment history:
My dad’s first job in the subway was as a Trainman in 1930. Trainman, a title long since eliminated, was among the lowest paid in the NYC Dept of Transportation.
As a Trainman, he’d fill in for absent conductors who called in sick etc. “Winters, take the 9:02 out,” he’d be told, and off he’d go on a trip to Coney Island. But he only got paid for the actual road time. When he got off at Coney, he was off the time clock too. Then he’d wait for his next “gig”…if there was one.
He saw the BMT police as more reliable employment. BMT, (Brooklyn Manhattan Transit) a private operator, hired their own police. He told me that his coworkers thought he was crazy because Patrolmen made less per hour than Trainmen. But he knew they also got steady pay each 60 hour week. So off he went to patrol the NYC subways.
He began working as a Transit cop as a BMT Patrolman in 1931 later becoming a Special Officer with powers of arrest. He applied for entry in the NYPD, but he never left Mother Transit. His questionnaire for the NYPD position:
Re: the plainclothes squad referred to in the above questionnaire, my dad was issued these permits by the NYPD authorizing plainclothes:
This manual from that era is in pristine condition. It was covered in brown paper exactly in the manner that I recall my mom insisted we St. Clement’s school students cover our textbooks. Actually, my mom might have covered this manual for my dad. I’ve never seen tape the likes of which was used on this book, but the tape did hold for over eight decades.
Some addenda (Brooklyn Post designations) were added to the back of the manual, the rings had been opened and hole-punched pages added. A strange feeling came over me when I realized, in opening these binder rings, that the rings were closed by my dad’s fingers some eighty or so years ago. Fingers that held up the bike that he taught me to ride, fingers that also grasped steel handcuffs much the same as did mine.
I opened the manual to display for you some details of early Transit Police information, among them this list of the original Transit Police District offices. My dad, Patrolman, LeRoy Winters, shield 698 worked for most of his career at Dist. 6, Bway East New York Station, Brooklyn.
The original Transit Police emblem of Command:
My dad’s BMT collar brass of the times:
Misc. Equipment from Transit System Police Dept. Manual of Instructions lists a billet, often referred to as billy club, or day billy by Transit Officers:
My dad’s old style wooden billet engraved with his shield number:
The “new” style black rubber billet replaced the wooden model:
My dad also had a pair of nippers or come-alongs. They have long since been discontinued as official equipment as they were found to damage ligaments in the wrist of subjects exposed to them.
My father had a police whistle from an equipment era long gone. Transit Cops back then had no radios to summon assistance. They too often relied on Railroad Clerks in their booths to phone for help when needed. The whistle was an option but the stick sound was universal.
It was routine for subway cops to pound their wooden nightsticks on the concrete platforms to call for help from another cop on the station…if there was another cop on the station. Perhaps a token booth clerk would call if he heard it too. I carried his ancient whistle and his pocket knife on my own gun belt below:
That primitive stick-pounding call for help was still in place when I came on the job in 1966. In the later sixties, radios were introduced but they were not reliable. Radios weren’t 100% reliable when I retired in 1992.
My dad had this 1937 IND map among his possessions, note the upper right sector designation for the upcoming 1939 Worlds Fair site:
1940 New Sixth Ave line opens:
Early Transit Special Officers were required to take readings from high Turnstiles on their posts:
In 1940 the first “merge” or unification as it was then known took place. The BMT and BQT merged with City-owned IND: Letter of merge sent to my dad:
A list of New men from his personal notebook, date unknown. Many of these “new men” rose through the ranks, some I knew, some I worked with.
One of the men my dad and I worked with, Tom Leonbruno, second on the list, was a Marine at Iwo Jima. Tom and I were also members of the same American Legion post in West Islip. There, Tom told me stories of how my dad broke him on his Transit Police career.
Leonbruno told me how he was embarrassed when he was a new rookie and my dad noticed Tom had no shield on his shirt while on patrol. He had gone back to his locker after roll call, took the blouse off then left it and his shield in the locker. I was amazed at how clearly Tom remembered those days and my dad, some thirty years prior.
A 1942 memo about suspicious men on an L train:
A 1942 complaint memo about men’s toilet surveillance. I redacted the name to avoid embarrassment to descendants of the subject officer:
This report involved the same Sp. Officer, different issue:
Today, of course, most of the officers who worked with my dad are long gone. But recently, retiree, Walter Hulse told me in that in 1965 he worked with my dad in my dad’s pre-retirement assignment, Statistics, and Analysis, (S&A). The photo below is from the late fifties or early sixties:
My dad’s initial pre-retirement notes used to determine the best retirement Option.
The NYC Transit Police were born basically as a security service of privately run NYC Rail companies. They were officers who were required to take “high turnstile readings.” They were officers required to make revenue escorts with Railroad Clerks. They struggled through many decades of being seen as “not real cops,” not NYPD.
However, they had to do real-cop work while moving from Specials to Peace Officers to Police Officers. But it was work that required patrolling alone in dangerous subterranean warrens of platforms, stairways, underground passageways, tunnels, and tracks. Patrolling without effective communication for help or back up. Patrols that sometimes required crawling under trains near electrified third rails to save a passenger maimed by steel wheels. Patrols that resulted in very serious injury such as an officer’s skull fragments being driven into his brain by his own nightstick…or death, by bullets fired through officers’ heads or hearts.
Transit Police union staff worked hard and long to obtain and maintain, parity in pay and prestige. And through performance and dedication the Transit Police, under Chief Bill Bratton in 1992, became one of only two accredited Police Departments in the state of New York, the second, Suffolk County PD. At that time there were only 175 law enforcement agencies in America to have that distinction.
The Detectives of the Warrant Squad of the fully accredited NYC Transit Police, with Chief, Bill Bratton:
In 1995 the NYC Transit Police merged with NYPD and today the Transit Police are the Transit Bureau of NYPD. But the men and women who served patrolling the subways pre-merge, and even post-merge, consider themselves to be of a Special Brotherhood, a bond that will never be broken nor a journey forgotten.
This post’s publishing date, Nov. 13, happens to be my dad’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad, I love you and I salute you.