New York State Police

The 1960s

A photo of a 1963 New York State Police patrol car.

The 1960s ushered in a period of unprecedented change in U.S. society. Technological advances in electronics, telecommunications and transportation changed the American lifestyle. Space travel was no longer science fiction; by the end of the decade, men would walk on the moon.

The social fabric of the nation was also changing. The first wave of the "baby boom" reached adolescence and young adulthood and many of its members openly rebelled against society and those who represented its authority. Some turned to illegal drugs and rock and roll, culminating in the Aquarian Festival, better known as Woodstock, for many the single event that epitomizes the tenor of the decade. Others turned to more sinister and violent rebellion. During the 1960s, the protest movement against the war in Viet Nam gave rise to domestic terrorist groups who declared war on the police.

While all of the social unrest was taxing police agencies across the nation, law enforcement had to deal at the same time with an increasing number of violent crimes and organized criminal groups. The widespread acceptance of "recreational" drug use generated huge demands for supplies of illegal substances, a demand that drew thousands of young people into the illegal drug trade and financed a major expansion of organized crime's drug trafficking operations.

The 1960s were also the height of the Cold War. The near miss when the United States and the U.S.S.R. came to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis was a dominating influence in public policy. The fear of nuclear war plagued the country throughout the decade. The New York State Police was actively engaged in Civil Defense planning, preparations and training for the very real possibility of nuclear attack. The threat of war was even the motivation for construction of the Interstate Highway System during the 1960s. Policing the new "National Defense Highway System" required a significant increases in State Police highway safety programs during the decade.

The expansion and improvement of the Nation's highways and roads during the decade greatly increased the work load for the Troopers. The demand for automobiles at the end of World War II continued unabated. The two car family was quickly becoming the norm, and the increased number of vehicles contributed to skyrocketing accident rates and traffic congestion. Baby boomers reaching adolescence resulted in huge number of young, inexperienced drivers who had unprecedented access to high powered automobiles. Combined with easy access to alcohol and the spread of illegal drug use, these drivers added to the mayhem on the nation's highways.

The improvement of roads and proliferation of automobiles also accelerated a trend that started in the 1930s. An increasingly mobile population included an equally mobile criminal element. Rural areas were no longer havens from the criminals who preferred the anonymity of the State's more populous urban areas. It became common for criminals to drive out to the suburbs and countryside to commit their crimes and then quickly return to their home jurisdiction, counting on the sparse law enforcement resources in rural areas and the jurisdictional limitations placed on local police departments to prevent their apprehension.

A New Superintendent

An era ended when Superintendent McGarvey retired on February 9, 1961; he was the last of the original 232 Troopers who enlisted in 1917 with the State Police. On February 14, 1961, Arthur Cornelius, Jr. was sworn in as the new Superintendent. Cornelius was the first Superintendent, other than Superintendent Chandler, who did not come from the ranks of the New York State Police. He took office with a mandate from Governor Nelson Rockefeller to reorganize, modernize and strengthen the State Police. He complied fully with both the letter and spirit of that mandate. With the untimely death of Superintendent Cornelius in 1967, the first Superintendent to die in office, William E. Kirwan was appointed to succeed him and continued the changes he initiated.

Division Expansion

1961 marked the beginning of a major increase in the size of the Division, as well, with 168 recruits graduating from the Academy to bring Division strength to 1,601. In 1962, the Division added more members than at any time in its 45 year History, including 1917 when the Department was founded, as the authorized strength of the Division increased to 2,370 members. The expansion continued throughout the decade. By the end of the 1969, authorized strength was 3,271 members and 501 civilian employees. Three new Troops were authorized. The Thruway Detail was officially designated Troop T in 1961. In 1967, Troop E began operating from its new headquarters in Canandaigua, and Troop F began operations the following year. In 1963 the work week decreased from 60 hours to forty hours a week.

The increase in personnel was not limited to sworn officers. In an effort to free more time for sworn personnel to spend on patrol and investigative work, Superintendent Cornelius initiated a program of hiring civilian employees to perform clerical and communications duties that were being done by members. The authorized number of civilian employees increased from 103 in 1960 to 501 at the end of the decade.

Building Program

The 1960s were also a time of unprecedented building for the State Police. The current Division Headquarters Building on the W. Averill Harriman State Office Campus in Albany was completed in 1964. This allowed the consolidation of administrative and Headquarters support services in one location for the first time in Division History. Construction of the State Police Academy was also begun in 1967 on land adjacent to the new Headquarters Building.

Upgrading facilities was not limited to Division Headquarters. In 1963, Superintendent Cornelius directed an evaluation of all Division facilities. This resulted in a consolidation program that reduced the number of stations from 126 to 100 by closing most part-time stations. An intensive program of modernizing the remaining facilities was also undertaken. In 1967 construction was completed on a new, standard design Troop Headquarters for the new Troop E in Canandaigua, and an identical facility was completed for the new Troop F at Middletown in 1968. Construction was started on a new Headquarters for Troop D in 1969. Plans were also initiated for replacement of Headquarters Buildings in Troops A, B and K. The building program included construction of many new Stations across the State, as well.

Civil Defense

One unusual building project was undertaken in 1962 was the result of the national concern over the possibility of nuclear war. The basements of all Troop Headquarters were converted to fallout shelters that year. Public concern with civil defense resulted in a number of State Police initiatives. Emergency communications capabilities were upgraded. Radiological monitoring equipment was acquired for each Troop and 1200 members were trained in its proper use. The State Police continued to provide training to civil defense auxiliary police, as well as escorts for missiles transported through the State.

Increasing Drug Trafficking

One of the more ominous events of 1968 was the creation of the first dedicated State Police narcotics enforcement unit. The unit was a direct response to the escalating traffic in illegal drugs. In 1966, Superintendent Cornelius reported, "The suppression of traffic in narcotics has emerged in the last two years as a fast-growing problem for the State Police." In fact, there were no cases of illegal possession of drugs reported to the State Police in either 1962 or 1963, nor were any arrests reported for drug violations. In 1964, there were 32 narcotics cases, and the number increased to 110 in 1965, 403 in 1966 and was up to 2,894 in 1968 when the narcotics unit was created. From the very beginning, the members of this unit cooperated closely with Federal and local law enforcement agencies.


The 1960s marked the beginning of the breathtaking technological advances that continue to revolutionize our society. The New York State Police continued its leadership role in adapting emerging technologies to provide improved law enforcement services.

In 1965 the New York State Police entered the computer age when the Electronic Data Processing Section was created. In 1966, computerized message switching equipment was installed to reduce the transmission time of teletypes and the process of creating a computerized database of stolen property and wanted persons was begun. In 1967, the New York State Police became the first New York State Agency to maintain an on-line, real time computer system when the new Computer Oriented Police System, the forerunner of the New York Statewide Police Information System, was placed in service. Radio improvements also continued.

The Division began a major radio improvement program to eliminate "dead" areas in 1962 and the back-pack walkie talkies were replaced by smaller, more portable units. Other communications improvements included the installation of emergency telephones along the Northway in 1965 and acquisition of new emergency command and communications vans.

The State Police made great strides in the application of technology to improving highway safety during the 1960s. The use of radar for speed enforcement increased throughout the decade. In 1962, radar accounted for 57.4% of all speeding arrests. In 1968, the first VASCAR units were placed in service to enhance the Division's speed enforcement capabilities.

Drunk driving increased dramatically during the 1960s, as did the Division's efforts to identify and apprehend drivers operating motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol. The use of Breathalyzers was expanded. In 1968 there were Breathalyzers available in every Zone Station. In 1969, every Station had a Breathalyzer and an extensive training program was underway to train every Trooper in the use of Breathalyzers and court testimony procedures.

To Protect and Serve

The expansion and upgrading of skills and equipment was undertaken for one purpose: to improve the ability of the New York State Police to serve the citizens of New York. Throughout the 1960s the Division maintained its tradition of service. Whether they were eliminating illegal drug dealers through dangerous undercover investigations, tracking murders across the State and across the nation, providing technical and investigative assistance to local police departments, or responding to natural disasters like the blizzard of 1966, when they struggled against twenty foot snow drifts rescuing people stranded by the storm, earning the respect of 300,000 rock fans who tried to attend the Aquarian Festival in Woodstock in 1969, or restoring order during the riots in Rochester in 1964, the Troopers proved time and time again that, whatever the emergency, the people of New York could count on the State Police to be there with assistance and to remain on the job until the danger passed.