New York State Police

The 1940s

A photo of the 1945 motorcycles used by the New York State Police.

1940 dawned with the nation facing the specter of once again being drawn into a World War. The New York State Police would be drawn into that conflict with the rest of the Nation. The first half of the decade was taken up by preparations for that conflict and, after 1941's Day of Infamy, coping with the massive dislocations of society that were the inevitable result of the War. Over the next five years, a force depleted by the draft and enlistments and hampered by wartime shortages would be required to cope with massive new demands for services. The second half of the decade would be spent basically in "catching-up" the things that had to be deferred "for the duration."

War Preparations

In 1940, the authorized strength of the New York State Police was increased by 100 men. Thirty-five of these positions were assigned to the BCI in order to cope with the requests for federal assistance with investigation of possible sabotage and espionage cases and with background investigations. Of the 1,927 case increase in 1940 over 1939, 1,636 were related to "subversive activities."

The Division was heavily involved in planning for war. In 1940, the Superintendent helped draw up a police mobilization plan for the 30,000 law enforcement personnel in the State. The State was divided into eight "Mobilization Districts," seven of which were coterminous with the seven State Police Troops. Fifteen Division members received training in chemical warfare and 92 attended the Army's Tactical Warfare School to learn how to handle enemy paratroop invasions! The State Police also acquired 355 Enfield military rifles, a number of Thompson submachine guns and new gas masks and began stockpiling ammunition.

In addition to its own preparations, the Division was responsible for conducting civil defense training. Over the course of the war State Police instructors conducted 503 Civilian Defense Schools that trained 70,000 people.

There were a number technological improvements that were made during the early 1940s, many of which were related to the war effort. Communications were upgraded with the addition of a TWX teletype link with the FBI, War and Navy Departments in 1940. A mobile radio transmitting station and command post was also placed into service that year. In 1941, the first two-way radios were placed in Division cars and installations on Long Island because of its concentrated defense industries and vulnerability to coastal attack. The State Police Laboratory acquired a portable X-ray machine to facilitate bomb detection.

The War Years

The outbreak of war resulted in a serious drain of Division manpower. The Division started the war with an authorized strength of 1,000, but 295 were placed on military leave during the war. Six members made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country between 1942 and 1945. Additional war duties added significantly to the workload of members remaining in the under strength Division. In 1942 the State Police developed evacuation plans for the State and established emergency truck control rerouting stations to divert traffic around New York City in case of sabotage or other emergency. A major commitment was also required for military convoy escorts through the State.

A New Superintendent

In 1943, Superintendent John A. Warner retired in order to return to active military service, ending the longest tenure of any State Police Superintendent. Governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed Captain John A. Gaffney, commander of Troop K, as his replacement. During the year, there were major changes in the Division administration as Deputy Superintendent George Dutton and five Troop Commanders and the Chief Inspector of the BCI also retired.


Communications received added importance during the war. The teletype system was improved. By 1944, the Division had statewide short wave radio coverage. Teletype improvements continued with the addition of automatic sending and receiving teletypewriter equipment beginning in 1945.

Public Service

Throughout the war years, the Division continued to maintain its high level of public service, particularly during man-made and natural disasters. Division members continued to perform heroically during such incidents as the crash of four Canadian military planes in the Adirondacks in 1940, the wreck of the Lackawanna Limited train in 1943, the hurricane that devastated Long Island in 1944 and the winter emergency of 1945. With the disruptions of transportation, family life and normal services wrought by the war, New Yorkers depended more and more on the Troopers to help them through personal and community emergencies.

Post-war Years

With the end of the war in 1945, the Division began to make up for lost time. Of the 305 men who left on military leave, 110 returned to the Division in 1945. These men needed to be retrained, and the New York State School for Police, which had been suspended during the war, was reopened with refresher training for returning members its first priority.

New Technology

With the end of the war, attention was turned toward upgrading equipment and acquiring new technology. The Division acquired a motorboat for patrol on the St. Lawrence River in 1945 and added boat patrols on Lake Champlain in 1948. The first motor sled, the forerunner of the snowmobile, was purchased to be used in Troop B during heavy snowfalls.

Communications were vastly improved during the immediate post-war years. By the end of 1947, the Division had instituted a statewide two-way radio system in its stations and cars. It also acquired 42 backpack walkie-talkies and 16 portable transceivers run by generators.

Motor Vehicle Traffic

During the war, motor vehicle traffic declined precipitously in the State due to fuel rationing, emergency travel restrictions, the unavailability of automobiles and the number of men serving overseas in the military. That all changed at the end of the war and, by the end of 1945, the increase in motor vehicle traffic on the State's highways was a major concern to the State Police that continued into the next decade.

The end of the war and the resurgence of highway traffic tolled the death knell for one of the oldest State Police traditions, as well. Mounted patrol miles had declined steadily throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. In 1947, only 2,115 miles were patrolled on horseback, less than 1/100th of the number 30 years before. In 1948, for the first time in its History, the New York State Police did not report any mounted patrols.