The tragic shooting death and funeral of New York City cop Peter Figoski this week brought into focus the dangers of patrolling the city's streets, and helped humanize a police force embattled by scandal, corruption and controversy.
Similarly, the photographs in Leonard Freed's "Police Work," now on display at The Museum Of The City Of New York, do not demonize or aggrandize the boys in blue (few women had joined the force in the 1970s), but instead simply show officers "on the beat" and negotiating tough situations, as well as officers demonstrating camaraderie with each other and spending time at home with their families.
As Freed himself described, the photos show compassion for a line of work that's "sometimes boring, sometimes corrupting, sometimes dangerous and ugly and unhealthy."
The Sunday Times Magazine of London commissioned Freed to do the project in the early 70s, when Gotham was facing bankruptcy and was notorious for high crime-rates. The photos' publication sparked controversy, even eliciting a response from then Mayor John V. Lindsay, who was vacationing in the Bahamas, who called Freed's work "outrageous" and "a gross insult to the city."
The photos were later compiled into a book, and in the intro Freed wrote, "if we do not concern ourselves with who the police are--who they really are--not just 'cops' or 'pigs,' 'law enforcement officers' or 'boys in blue,' we run the real risk of finding that we no longer have public servants who are required to protect the public...I was, and am still, impressed by the concept of the police as a symbol of society's efforts to control itself."
Check the photos out for yourself below and see the full exhibit at The Museum Of The City Of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street) from now until March 18th.