1902 Encyclopedia > New York City > Courts and Police. Vital Statistics.

New York City
(Part 9)

Courts and Police. Vital Statistics.

Courts and Police. – The city has three courts of record, of which two, the superior court and court of common pleas, possess concurrent jurisdiction with the supreme court of the State in all cases in which the cause of action has arisen within the county, or in which the property or other thing in dispute lies within the county, or in which the defendant is a resident. Each court has six judges, elected by popular vote for a term of fourteen years. The supreme court can, however, remove any cause from either of thee courts or order on notice, and take jurisdiction of them itself, but in that case the trial must take place in another county. The third, formerly the marine court, now the city court, consists also of six judges. Its jurisdiction, however, is limited to cases not involving more than $2000 dollars in value, and to the enforcement against real estate of mechanics’ liens, that is, of liabilities incurred to contractors or laborers who have been engaged in the construction of a house or other work of improvement on land. The only marine causes of which the court has cognizance are suits brought by sailors for wages, or by any person for assault and battery or false imprisonment on board a vessel. Below these are ten district courts which are not courts of record, and whose jurisdiction only extends to cases not involving over $250. The justice of each court is elected by popular vote, and holds office for six years, and must be a member of the bar. Appeals from his decisions, in certain cases specified by stature, lie to the court of common pleas. The surrogate, who has charge of the court of probate, is also elected, and holds office for six years.

The criminal courts of the city begin with the court of oyer and terminer, which consists of a single judge of the State supreme court belonging to the judicial district which the city lies, and tries all such cases sent to it by the court of general sessions as it thinks proper to try, and is, in fact, intended to furnish relief to the latter. The working criminal court of the city is the court of general session, which consists of the recorder, the city judge, and the judge of the court of general session, each of whom tires casers sitting apart; but an appeal in all capital cases, and in all cases punishable with imprisonment for life, lies from them to the supreme court and court of appeals. All three judges are elected, and hold office for fourteen years. Below the general sessions there is the court of special sessions, composed of any three police justices, which tries all misdemeanors, unless the defendant prefers to be tried by the court of general sessions, or is sent before that court for trial by the special sessions. The police courts are held by eleven police justices possessing the usual jurisdiction of police magistrates, and appointed by the mayor, subject to the confirmation of the board of aldermen, for a term of ten years.

In addition to the courts of law there is an official arbitrator, appointed by the governor of the State, who, with or without two assessors chosen by the parties to the controversy, hears and decides, on short notice, all disputes between members of the chamber of commerce. His judgments have all the force of those of the courts of law, and are executed in the same manner, and are rendered without formal pleadings, on the oral or written statements of the litigants, and the submission of the necessary documents.

The police department is in the control of four salaried commissioners, who are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the aldermen, and hold office for six years. The total force performing actual police duties consists of 2237 patrolmen, 165 rounds men, 143 sergeants, 78 doormen, 36 captains, 40 detective sergeants, 4 inspectors, and 1 superintendent. The expenses of the department for the year ending January 1, 1882, were #3,209,960.65. The city is divided into thirty-five police precincts, each under the direction of a captain and subordinate officers. There is, in addition, a steamboat squad, whose duties them to the piers and the neighborhood; a mounted squad, on duty in the uptown avenues; a central-office squad, on duty at the department headquarters; a special-service squad; a detective bureau; a sanitary company for the inspection of steam-boilers and tenement houses; four inspection districts; and six district-court squads.

About half of those arrested for various offences in the city are natives of the United States. The statistics of the police courts (including the court of special sessions) show that in the year ending October 31, 1882, they disposed of 66,867 prisoners, a decrease of 17,954 as compared with the year 1874.

The fire department is under control of three salaried fire commissioners, who are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the aldermen. The working force of the department consists of 826 uniformed men, who are divided into fifty-one engine companies and nineteen hook-and-ladder companies. The city is thoroughly equipped with a fire-alarm telegraph system. The number of fires in the city in 1883 was 2166, with a loss of $3,517,326. The expenditure of the department in 1883 was $1,464,850. The department has other duties besides that of extinguishing fires. It has charge of the bureau which looks after the proper construction of buildings, seeing that they are erected in compliance with the Building Act, and that old building do not become in any way dangerous, and supervises the storage of combustibles and explosive materials.

An adjunct of the fire department, although under entirely independent control, is the fire-insurance patrol. This is an organization authorized by an Act of the legislature passed in 1865, and supported by the fire insurance companies doing business in the city. Its object is not to assist in extinguishing fires, but to remove goods from the burning buildings, and to protect them from damage by water.

Vital Statistics. – The situation of the city, surrounded as it is by tide water, renders the disposition of its sewage easy. This, combined with its excellent supply of fresh water, tends to make the city a healthy one. On the other hand its limited area causes an excessive crowding of its inhabitants into tenement houses; and, as a majority of the tenement population is foreign, with little appreciation of the value of cleanliness, the death-rate among this class is very large. This is especially true of young children in the very hot months. Quarantine inspection at the mouth of the harbor and vigilant sanitary inspection throughout the city itself, have been very successful in warding off pestilence. Since 1822 there have not been more than one hundred deaths from yellow fever in any one year. Since 1831 there have been six outbreaks of cholera, but only two deaths occurred from that disease from 1875 to 1882 inclusive.

The sanitary condition of the city is in charge of a board of health, consisting of the president of the police board, the health officer of the port, and two commissioners of health, one of whom must have been a practicing physician for not less than five years preceding his appointment. In the health department are two bureau, one in charge of a sanitary superintendent, and the other in charge of a registrar of records. The board has authority to frame and enforce a sanitary code. The death-rate was 26.47 in 188, 31.08 in 1881, and 29-64 in 1882.

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