Joseph Petrosino, the legendary New York City detective killed while eradicating organized crime, was considered the “Italian Sherlock Holmes.”

Joseph Petrosino (1860-1909) stands out as an exemplary figure in the annals of law enforcement. An authentic representative of Italian immigrant milieu, he dedicated himself to eradicating crime from the ethnic community. Petrosino was born in Padula, Italy in 1860, came to New York with his family in 1873. At age 23 he became a policeman. He then became a detective lieutenant assigned to New York's Little Italy where it was believed the "Black Hand" Italian criminal organization was operating. In an effort to thwart the nefarious criminal effort, the New York City Police Department organized an Italian branch made up of Italian American personnel to be led by Petrosino. He proceeded to immerse himself in community life while simultaneously capturing a number of criminals –his Italian squad was credited with significantly reducing crime. His careful study of the patterns of local criminal elements led him to conclude that rather than an international crime syndicate, there existed instead a decentralized group of individuals who preyed on simple Italian immigrants. He intended to prove his point by compiling a list of several hundred principals whose records would be matched with Italian police records. While conducting his investigation in Palermo, Sicily in March 1909, he was murdered -this marked the first time a New York City police officer was killed in the line of duty abroad.

Petrosino was already a legend in Italy where he was called the “Italian Sherlock Holmes." He would now become a law enforcement hero to Italian Americans. His funeral procession took more than five and half-hours and was watched by 250,000 people. Petrosino's name is honored in the National Law Enforcement Memorial, erected in Washington, D.C. in 1991. It is salutary to note Italian Americans played a vital role in creating the monument thus standing as a strong antidote to the vicious stereotype associating the ethnic group with crime.

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