Friday, July 16, 2010

Joseph Petrosino: 1905

from the ny daily news
F. Y. I.: A Hero With a Badge, By MICHAEL POLLAK
Q. I am proud of the Italian heritage of New York police officers, and there is one Italian-American officer I wish you would write about: Joe Petrosino.
A. Gladly. Lt. Giuseppe Petrosino, perhaps the most celebrated individual officer in New York police history, holds a sad distinction: He is the only New York police officer to have been killed in the line of duty outside the United States.
The Mafia violated its longstanding rule against killing cops when in 1909 it silenced Lieutenant Petrosino, who had emigrated at age 13 from Salerno. His specialty was fighting the mob in the days when it was extorting money from immigrants.
Petrosino, often called Joseph, was born in 1860. He joined the force in 1883 and was promoted to detective in 1895 in a departmental housecleaning spurred by Theodore Roosevelt, the police commissioner.
At 5 feet 3 and 200 pounds, Petrosino was not known for his gentleness. In 1902, he founded the Police Department’s bomb squad to counter the mob’s use of explosives in carrying out extortion threats.
From 1905, Petrosino and the “Italian Branch,” an elite corps of Italian-American undercover officers, arrested thousands of members of the Sicilian Mafia and Neapolitan Camorra, deporting 500. Reports of crime against Italian-Americans dropped 50 percent.
Lieutenant Petrosino was shot to death on March 12, 1909, in Palermo, Sicily, where he was planning to record the names of Sicilian criminals who had immigrated to the United States; his goal was to deport them. A local Mafia leader, Don Vito Cascio Ferro, was suspected, but no one was ever convicted of the killing.
Some 250,000 people attended Lieutenant Petrosino’s funeral. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in West Maspeth, Queens, and his name lives on at Petrosino Square, a triangle at Kenmare and Lafayette Streets in Little Italy, where he grew up.

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