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WOMEN IN BLUE

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by Joe Lugara

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Come in all units…over. Not just boys want to be police officers any longer…over. Women on Patrol, the new exhibit at The New York City Police Museum, is for kids who are just beginning to form their social consciousness. The idea of a male-dominated law enforcement industry is a dated one, best exemplified — despite the rise of feminism in the 1970s — by the film and television of that decade. But the ‘70s also proved to be a watershed decade for female police officers, particularly in New York City. “Women on Patrol” covers that time. “Patrol” is by no means the museum's first excursion into the subject. A larger exhibit, covering the entire history of women in the NYPD, was held last year. But given the significant developments of the 1970s, the curators have decided to give that period a closer look — although, for those who may have missed the previous exhibit, a little historical overview is supplied here. The anchor to the exhibition is a well-produced video featuring on-camera interviews with some of the city's women-in-blue pioneers. The video, together with an exceptional timeline mounted to the wall just inside the door, supplies the necessary historical background for appreciating the artifacts. A video monitor is mounted inside, of all things, the trunk of a white, green and black 1972 Plymouth Fury radio patrol car; visitors can sit on adjacent park-style benches and watch the interviews comfortably, at a height not too far removed from that of their own televisions at home. Thus armed (pun intended), they can examine the remainder of this small but interesting show in its proper context. The windshield of the Plymouth boasts a gritty black-and-white image of Lucille Burrascano and Kathaline Salzano, who worked as partners in 1972 as part of the department's experimental "Policewomen on Patrol" program — an event that marked the first time in NYPD history that two women functioned together on radio car patrol duty. The initiative was not the hit most might imagine: Of the 350 policewomen in New York City in the early 1970s, only about 18 responded favorably to the initial survey sent out by the commissioner's office, with 15 volunteers actually electing to take the eight weeks of Police Academy training. "Policewomen on Patrol" was eventually deemed successful, resulting in the disbanding of the Bureau of Policewomen. In a short time, both policemen and policewomen officially became police officers — a consolidation that can be seen most clearly in the four uniforms on display here, which range from the high-collared and corseted 1890 Matron's uniform to the present day unisex attire. The appalling aspect of the show, of course, is the sexism. Most embarrassing by today's standards is the "combination gun holster and make-up kit", first issued in 1943 with space for a .38, a medium red lipstick, a compact and rouge, and then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia's advice on the use of firepower. "Use your gun as you would your lipstick," the Napoleon of New York said. "Use it only when you need it, and use it intelligently. Don't overdo either one." Given today, advice like that would land any Napoleon back on Saint Helena.

Info: Where: The New York City Police Museum, 100 Old Slip (between Water and South streets) When: Through August 28. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm How much: Suggested admission of $5, adults; $3, seniors; $2, children 6-18; under 6 and NYPD members, FREE For more info: (212) 480-3100; www.nycpolicemuseum.org

 


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