Lt. Joseph Petrosino Park
Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino Park
This trapezoidal park is bounded by 16th and New Utrecht Avenues, 70th and 71st Streets. The City of New York purchased the land in 1929, and a playground opened on the site on May 24, 1935. The plan revolved around a central open play area. Distributed around its perimeter were handball courts, slides, swings, a wading pool, jungle gym, and recreation building. The site was formerly known as Satellite Park. It underwent a $700,000 reconstruction in 1993. The handball courts, basketball courts, and playground were renovated, and new benches, fencing, lights, drainage, and landscaping were installed. With its tot lot, athletic facilities, and sitting areas, the park features recreational opportunities for all age groups.
In 1999 the City Council passed a law to name the park for Lieutenant Giuseppe (Joseph) Petrosino, New York City's first Italian-American police detective. Petrosino was born in Salerno, Italy and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1873. As a boy, he shined shoes outside Police Headquarters on Mulberry Street. At the age of eighteen, he began his career in the public service with the Department of Sanitation (then under the jurisdiction of the Police Department). Fluent in many Italian dialects, Petrosino aided the police by working undercover as an informer in Little Italy.
When he joined the Police Department in 1883, Petrosino was the city's shortest officer, at five feet and three inches tall. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt personally promoted him to Sergeant of Detectives in 1895. While investigating anarchists in the United States, Petrosino warned President McKinley of threats against his life; however, the warning was not heeded and the President was assassinated in 1901.
Petrosino was named lieutenant and given command of the new Italian Squad, a unit created to combat the crime organization known as the Black Hand. Under his leadership, several thousand arrests were made, and more than 500 offenders were sent to prison. Crimes against Italian-Americans dropped by fifty percent. Lt. Petrosino was assassinated while on assignment to Palermo, Sicily in 1909. He was the only New York police officer who was killed in the line of duty outside the United States.
When his body was returned to New York, thousands of mourners formed a funeral procession that marched from Little Italy in Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Another park named for Lt. Petrosino (in 1987) is located in Little Italy, just north of the Renaissance Revival edifice at 240 Centre Street, which served as New York City Police Headquarters from 1910 to 1971.