Police Officer Thomas Brooks

     The Yonkers Police Department is a very old and honorable organization which is very proud of the 125 years of excellent service it has provided to the citizens of Yonkers. During the early years of policing in the town and village of Yonkers, and for many years after becoming a city in 1872, immigrants from many countries flooded our city. After the Civil War many southerners moved north, further increasing the ethnic and cultural diversity in our city. This great mix of humanity was reflected in almost every business aspect of our community. Unfortunately there were exceptions. Up through the early part of this century, although the Negro or black man represented a large segment of our community, not one had ever served as a member of the Yonkers Police Department. Whether this was coincidence or by design is unknown. Fortunately this changed when Thomas Brooks was sworn in as the first black man hired by the Yonkers PD on April 1, 1925. In fact, he was, at that time, the first black police officer in Westchester County.

Police Officer Thomas Brooks

Tom Brooks was born March 10, 1900 on North Broadway to Toler and Amanda Brooks. He attended PS #2 elementary school and studied business courses at Yonkers High School. For six years he held a job as a chauffeur for former Mayor, Dr. Nathan A. Warren. When Tom was appointed a policeman along with 23 other men, the newspaper reported, “He would likely be assigned to a beat or post in that section of the city where the Negro population predominates. Some of these areas would be School Street, Waverly Street, Brook Street, New Main Street and Morgan Street, along with Chicken Island.” A big man, broad shouldered and of sturdy build, he once was asked what led him to seek a job as a police officer. He answered, “My size.” Also, “I wanted to do something permanent for my life’s work.” Tom Brooks also thought the salary was fairly decent. Possessing a cheerful personality, ready smile, and snappy wit, he would often politely say, “Don’t call me Mr. Brooks, call me Tom.” His witty cordiality made him a popular figure on his old “beat” in the First Precinct.

Patrolman Brooks was a very popular and respected officer. He was very active in our P.A.L. and was always available to counsel youths who seemed headed for trouble. During his career he received several department commendations and awards for excellent police work. One award for heroism was received for an incident which occurred on December 1, 1947 when three armed men entered 254 New Main Street, the Calcagno Association clubhouse.

The three men were armed, desperate, and while holding the occupants at gun point, demanded money. During the attempted holdup the gunman shot and killed off–duty Fireman Anthony Polito and also shot and seriously wounded Polito’s brother–in–law, off–duty Patrolman Ray Carozza. Patrolman Tom Brooks, while on foot patrol, was calling the precinct from a police callbox on Park Hill Avenue, heard the sound of gun shots and, with gun in hand, entered the club. In attempting to arrest the robbers a violent struggle began. One escaped, but Patrolman Brooks was able to subdue and arrest two of the gunmen.

In the mid–1950’s your scribe was only a teenager and I lived at 55 Ravine Avenue. “Mr. Brooks” lived at 80 Ravine. In those years my friends and I would “hang out” on the corner. That is, until we saw “Mr. Brooks.” Even though he did not work in the area where we lived, his reputation for being a no–nonsense cop was enough to make us all leave the area, and quickly.

Along with his job as a policeman, Tom Brooks supplemented his income with a second job as a guard at Patricia Murphy’s Candlelight Restaurant on Central Park Avenue. His brother, Frank, was the funeral director of Brooks Funeral Home at Warburton Avenue and Gold Street. Unfortunately Officer Brooks developed a heart condition and on May 24, 1959 he passed away at the age of 59 years at the Professional Hospital on Ludlow Street. At the time, he was assigned to the Traffic Division. Officer Brooks was a member of the PBA, and was a member and trustee of the Institutional AME Zion Church.

I never knew him personally when I was a boy, but now with nearly 32 years in our police department, I hear Tom Brooks’ name mentioned every now and again by those who knew him. I can honestly say his name and memory always receive well–earned respect.

Just prior to writing this article I met with Tom Brooks’ grandson, Yonkers Firefighter Gregory Brooks. He asked if I might convey his feelings. He said, “At a time when black men had very few rights in this country, there stood a strong black man in the 1920s with a badge and a gun. Under undoubtedly close scrutiny, he was able to persevere and assimilate into the ranks of the Yonkers Police Department. He was truly a pioneer for the black men and women who would, in the years to come, proudly follow in his footsteps.

“My grandfather, standing over 6 feet and weighing close to 300 pounds and, carrying a gun, was easy to notice and was very popular. People who knew him 40—60 years ago still ask if I am related to ‘Brooksie,’ the cop. And that always brings a proud smile to my face and a feeling beyond words.”

—Captain George Rutledge, Yonkers Police Department

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