SPRING 3100 was a choice assignment, a secret closely guarded and not spoken of outside ‘the City Room’, what we called the large open room that accommodated our desks, the Art department and files, on the top floor of 400 Broome Street, a/k/a The Police Annex. Police Headquarters then was just across Broome at 240 Centre Street in a grand old building done in the monumental Beaux Arts style with a Dome, pediments and marble columns over the entrance facing on Grand Street. I once believed that I’d gotten to SPRING 3100 by pure chance, but don’t any longer.
I was a beat cop walking foot posts by myself (the custom then) in the 9th Precinct on East 5th Street in the East Village. As a rookie with just fifteen months on the Job, I was usually assigned to patrol on the down-and-out Bowery or on the battleground streets of ‘Alphabet City’ (Avenues ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’) when I read in SPRING 3100 that there were openings on staff for Patrolmen-Reporters. I applied, out of curiosity, although I was still caught up in the romance of being The Man on the Mean Streets of the City. I had been a professional reporter and editor for business magazines for the three years prior to taking the Police Test. I applied and The Editor of SPRING hired me on the spot, thinking he’d gotten a bargain in me, I’m sure, although he was to learn over the next three years that I was definitely a mixed bag.
|240 Centre Street|
Spring 3100 was a 50-page, 8-1/2x11-inch, professionally-written—abundantly illustrated with photos, occasional art and a dab of color on the front cover—slick magazine that had come out every month since 1929. Its size was purposeful: folded lengthways, it fit snugly in the rear back pocket of its readership, the uniform cop on the street. Distribution was a stroke of genius: bundles delivered by Motor Pool trucks to every Precinct, Headquarters and Administrative Command in the City. Every cop paid $1.80 per month for the magazine which was included in “House Tax,” a small sum he had to kick in monthly at his Precinct, that also underwrote the shoe shine machine and store of polish available to him in the Muster Room. If the New York Journal-American had had a setup like ours, it might have survived.
I earned my spurs with ‘Cops In the Blue’, the Aviation story, one of the longest SPRING had ever run, dramatic photo spreads showcasing the old biplanes and their heroic pilots. I’d researched the hell out of the story for a month; the photos came out of the magazine’s archives or The New York Daily News’s morgue. In recognition, the Editor assigned me to write ‘All In the Day’s Work’, a dramatic log of street heroics by cops all over the City—starring rescued animals, people, and perpetrators’ arrests ripped from the pages of the daily papers, illustrated by photos from their morgues, written from an omniscient third-person point of view with commentary (mine). Each month, I’d open the column with an apt quotation, like: “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.—Amelia Earhart Putnam.”
My other assignment was the column, “The Retired Ring In” (‘Ring In’ is a term of art referring to the foot patrolman’s duty to call in to the Precinct Switchboard from a Police Call Box on the street at a designated time each hour). Retired cops living in places all over the country would “ring in” their doings with ample photographic documentation. And sprinkled throughout: news of the Departmnent’s doings with plenty of headshots of the Top Command (Bosses loved SPRING where their Over-Bosses would see their pictures and, hopefully remember they existed), a Law column, an Inquiring Photographer, a Cop Captions Contest, Obituaries, Want Ads, and the clincher, ‘Looking Them Over’—reports of arrests, personal foibles, meaty tales (the doer’s name in boldface type) by the Precinct Reporter, a Patrolman in that Precinct, in every Precinct in the City. Liberally illustrated with photos, of course. Pure genius.
Then, one day our Patrolman-Editor retired (frustrated that after all those years he’d never been promoted to Detective 3rd Grade), a tone-deaf Sergeant replaced him and the clock ran out on the rest of us.
© 2013 Robert Knightly
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