New York State Police

The 1950s

A photo of 1954 New York State Police car used to patrol the NYS Thruway.

The demise of horseback patrols as the 1940s drew to a close was symbolic of the role the automobile would play during the 1950s, not only as the mode of transportation for Troopers, but also as the primary focus of most of their activities and initiatives during the decade. Other major concerns were the growing apprehension over the Cold War, the expanding influence of organized crime and continuing needs for assistance during natural and man-made disasters.

Highway Safety

Highway safety was of paramount concern to the State Police during the early 1950s. In 1951, Superintendent Gaffney wrote, "traffic congestion on summer weekends has reached the saturation point, particularly on parkways and highways leading to the State's metropolitan areas." The problem continued to grow. In 1952, the Superintendent reported that "where formerly traffic volume noticeably decreased between Mondays and Fridays, less of a decrease in volume was evident during those days." The era of commuter traffic had arrived.

Another major change was the opening, in 1954, of the New York State Thruway. The New York State Police assumed sole responsibility for policing the Thruway and its authorized strength was increased from 899 to 1201 members in 1953 in order to provide the additional Thruway patrols.

With the increase in vehicle traffic, driving while intoxicated became a major problem. In 1953, a law was passed that allowed the securing of blood, breath or urine from a driver for analysis to determine blood alcohol content. In 1954, the Division made more than 1,000 arrests for DWI for the first time in History. A program to evaluate breath testing devices began in 1953 with a pilot test of the Harger Drunkometer conducted jointly by the Laboratory and Troop G. By the end of the decade, the Breathalyzer was in widespread use by the Division.

Technology was also applied to speed enforcement. In 1956 the Thruway Detail was the first in the State Police to use concealed identity cars and radar for vehicle and traffic enforcement. These innovations were expanded to all six Troops the following year. 1956 also saw the first use of helicopters to observe heavy traffic conditions.

A New Look

The most obvious changes made during the 1950s were in the appearance of Troopers and Troop cars. In 1954, a new, light gray uniform was introduced at the U.S. Governors' Conference in Lake George. With the demise of the horse, the riding breeches were replaced by straight trousers, although the breeches were retained until 1957 for motorcycle details. The Division also began replacing the .45 Colt revolvers, carried in a cross-draw holster, with .38 Special Colt Official Police revolvers carried in swivel holsters worn on the side of the shooting hand. In 1955, spurs were retired.

Troop cars also got a new look. In 1955 the gray patrol cars were replaced by new black and whites. In the same year patrol cars on the Thruway were painted blue and cream and, for the first time, had sirens and flashing red lights installed on the roof.

Administrative Changes

A major change for the Troopers occurred in 1958 when they were placed on a 60 hour week (five 12-hour days) and no longer required to live at the station. This change effectively cut the Troopers' work week in half.

Organized Crime

In 1957, the New York State Police found concrete proof that a nationwide network of organized crime existed when they uncovered a conference of organized crime leaders in progress in Apalachin, New York. The meeting disbanded when the Troopers arrived, but subsequent investigations were the beginning of the war on organized crime. In 1958, the Division created its first Criminal Intelligence Unit, with 26 members initially assigned. This was the vanguard of what would become an army of law enforcement officers who would be enlisted for the war on organized crime in the coming years.

Illegal Drug Trafficking

The 1950s saw the first harbingers of another major crime problem that would confront the State Police in future years --- illegal drugs. There were sporadic references to illegal drugs in the first four decades, including the seizure in 1920 of opium worth $225,000, approximately equal to $2,000,000 in 1995, but 1955 is the first year that the State Police had a separate section on narcotics in the Annual Report. In that year, the Division conducted a cooperative investigation with Federal law enforcement agents that resulted in the arrests of 17 "pushers" in Suffolk County and four distributors in New York City. The primary drug of concern was heroin, with some arrests for marijuana possession and sale.

Public Service

The New York State Police continued its tradition of immediate response and assistance to the scene of natural and man-made disasters. During the decade Troopers responded to the capsizing of the charter boat, Pelican, one of the worst marine accidents in the History of Long Island, as well as to floods in Schoharie, Montgomery, Greene and Schenectady Counties in 1955.