Grover A. Whalen

Grover A. Whalen
Grover A. Whalen

One of the most ineffective police commissioners in New York City's history, to take a most charitable view, was Grover Whalen, remembered today as "the Official Greeter of New York City" and originator of the city's celebrated ticker-tape parades. In fact, Whalen presided over the most corrupt years of the police department since before the Great War.

From the very first day in his police post, Grover A. Whalen started acting in the mob's best interest. In later years, neither Lucky Luciano nor Frank Costello made much of a secret that Whalen had always been in their hip pocket. In fact, $20,000 a week was said to have been delivered in a trusty, plain paper bag to the commissioner's office at police headquarters. The charge was never proven, but the amount does seem in line with any measure of compensation for value received.

In 1928, Grover A. Whalen, general manager of New York's John Wanamaker department store, was tapped by the corrupt Jimmy Walker as police commissioner. Grover A. Whalen was reluctant at first to accept, but John Wanamaker officials, urged by the mayor, promised Whalen that if he took the post, his $100,000-a-year salary from the store would continue as a supplement to his city pay.

Within six hours of taking office, Grover A. Whalen started serving the underworld. First, he abolished the police confidential squad, which unearthed police corruption and political malfeasance. Next, he busted its commander, Lewis J. Valentine, back to his civil-service rank of lieutenant and transferred him to the wilds of Long Island City.

It had long been the habit of police watchers to gauge a New York police administration's honesty and devotion to duty by how it treated Valentine, a rigidly honest cop who attacked the mobs and crooked police with equal fervor.

Commissioner Grover A. Whalen had made it clear which way he was taking the department that first day. During the ensuing period the mob operated with more impunity than at any other time until the reign of William O'Dwyer after World War II.

Whalen's administration represented, for instance, the heyday of the slot machine racket with special "police stickers." Under the aegis of Costello, the mob set up slot machines all over the city (some with special stools so that little schoolchildren could get high enough to feed in coins), all with colored stickers that informed the local police that the machine was a legitimate graft payer. If a machine failed to have a sticker, it was subject to police seizure, and the sticker colors were changed frequently to prevent freelance operators from counterfeiting them.

A police officer who made the mistake of interfering with a mob machine could expect to be transferred to the outer edges of the city, inevitably far away from his home. The system was extremely well known to policemen in the city as well as to every journalist, and there was no way it could continue without an okay from the commissioner's office.

With Whalen's record of doing right with the mob there is little reason to doubt the story of Costello, who handled police payoffs for the syndicate, informing Luciano once: "Yesterday, around noon, Whalen called me. He was desperate for thirty grand to cover his margin [on the stock market]. What could I do? I hadda give it to him. We own him."

Whalen's administration permitted the LucianoLansky-Costello combination to accumulate the money and power needed to wipe out the old-line mafiosi and create a modern underworld of organized crime. During his tenure, Grover A. Whalen diverted public attention away from serious crime by organizing traffic campaigns, encouraging anti-communist demonstrations, and providing showmanship—with the omnipresent gardenia in his lapel—as chairman of the mayor's reception committee for distinguished visitors.