Lt Joseph Petrosino Association in America | NYPD approaches 100th anniversary of its only overseas death
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NYPD approaches 100th anniversary of its only overseas death

NYPD approaches 100th anniversary of its only overseas death

One hundred years ago, the NYPD's only secret weapon in the war on terror was a brave lieutenant known in Little Italy as "the Detective in the Derby."

The terrorists of that time were called the Black Hand, ruthless gangsters who preyed on Italian-American immigrants, and Lt. Giuseppe (Joseph) Petrosino was dispatched to Sicily on an intelligence-gathering mission.

Petrosino was ambushed by gunmen near a statue of Garibaldi in downtown Palermo. Thursday will mark the 100th anniversary of Petrosino's assassination, the only cop murdered overseas in the department's history.

"Giuseppe Petrosino was a pioneer among Italian-Americans in policing, and among investigators everywhere as an expert on organized crime who ... recognized its evils and who sacrificed his life trying to stop its reach into American life," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Petrosino's legend is largely unknown outside the NYPD, although he was the subject of a 1960 film called "Pay or Die," starring Ernest Borgnine. A school in Long Island City and a tiny park in lower Manhattan near a tenement where he lived have been named after him.

At least four Petrosinos followed his great gumshoe-prints into law enforcement - nephews Prospero and James were in the NYPD.

Grandnephew Joseph Petrosino is a prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney's office. His son Joseph Petrosino is a rookie cop in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The prosecutor said his grandmother took him to see the film at the Bliss Theater in Queens, near Calvary Cemetery, where the hero is buried.

"My grandmother spoke mostly Italian, but I remember she used used to say, 'He was such a good man,'" Petrosino told the Daily News. "I am proud of him. It's terrific to have him as an ancestor. I wanted to be one of the good guys, too."

Thomas Reppetto, author of "NYPD: A City and Its Police," said Petrosino was the forerunner of New York detectives functioning as intelligence officers in other countries - an investigative tactic Kelly has expanded to station detectives in Tel Aviv, London and Singapore on counter terrorism assignments.

"The 100th anniversary of Petrosino's murder reminds us of the dangers faced by the 21st century NYPD," Reppetto said.

Petrosino lay in state at St. Patrick's Cathedral and 250,000 spectators paid their respects, the author said. 

President Theodore Roosevelt, who as police commissioner had promoted Petrosino, once said of him: "He did not know the meaning of fear." 



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