Remembering Lt. Giuseppe Petrosino

July 19, 2012 Denise Romano
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A memorial tribute mass for late New York City Police Detective Lt. Giuseppe Petrosino was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Thursday, June 28.

Petrosino was murdered while investigating organized crime in Sicily in 1909. He is the only American police officer to be killed in the line of duty on foreign soil.

Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, Police Department Chaplain Monsignor Robert Romano and his grandnephew, retired Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joseph Petrosino, were among those in attendance at the special ceremony held at the 15th Avenue church, in which Petrosino Memorial Medals were presented to the families of retired NYPD Bomb Squad Detective Tony Senft, who was badly injured in an FALN bombing in 1982, and Detective Claude Richards, who was killed during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

According to the District Attorney’s office, Petrosino was born in southern Italy in 1860 and immigrated to New York city with his family in 1873. When he was 18, he began shining shoes for a living near police headquarters on Mulberry Street and decided to become a police officer, but was rejected because he was not tall enough. Instead, Petrosino became a street sweeper and was quickly promoted to foreman. He was noticed by the head of the street cleaning department, who also was a police captain. With his help, Petrosino was appointed to the Police Department in 1883.

In 1890, Petrosino became the first Italian-American detective. He was assigned to weed out crime in the Italian-American community and became a great undercover officer, eventually befriending then-Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who promoted him to detective sergeant. A year later, Petrosino became a lieutenant and was appointed commander of “The Italian Squad,” an elite unit fighting organized crime.

The main focus of the squad was on a group called the Black Hand, which had been extorting Italian-Americans with letters, threatening to bomb the recipients if they did not pay fees. Petrosino founded the city and country’s first municipal bomb squad to tackle the issue.

In 1909, Petrosino went to Palermo for an investigation. After his identity was disclosed to enemies, he was killed on March 12, 1909. Over 250,000 New Yorkers attended his funeral procession. In 1987, Kenmare Memorial Park in lower Manhattan was renamed in his honor.

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