Just inside the front entrance of NYPD headquarters in Manhattan stands a large bronze statue of a barrel-chested cop holding the hand of a young boy.
The uniformed cop stands ramrod-straight as the boy clings to his side, as if seeking comfort. The boy clutches the cop’s arm, seeming more vulnerable than scared.
In a moment of photographic symmetry, Lt. Matthew Spano, 33, held his 2-year-old son, Matthew Jr., in his arms as he posed for a picture in front of the Police Memorial Statue at a promotion ceremony last month.
“It represents what the Police Department does – we protect the innocent,” Lt. Spano, 33, now assigned to the Brooklyn court system, said of the statue’s significance.
The statue was created in 1939 by noted Italian sculptor Attilio Piccirilli after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia advocated for a monument honoring NYPD officers killed in the line of duty.
Despite the statue’s Rockwell-esque appeal, it made a long and unheralded journey following its completion until finally arriving at Police Headquarters in 1983.
That journey should have included one more stop, said LaGuardia’s son, Eric, who was 9 years old when he served as Piccirilli’s model for the boy, who represents the child of a slain cop.
“It’s a fine piece of work and it needs to be properly displayed,” said Eric LaGuardia, who now lives in Seattle. “It needs a more monumental setting.”
Eric LaGuardia, who fondly recalls his trips to Piccirilli’s Bronx studio, said he visited Police Headquarters a few years ago after learning the statue had finally found a home.
The statue is the centerpiece of the Police Memorial Lobby, where the walls are covered by plaques bearing the names of police officers who have given their lives for the city.
Yet as Eric LaGuardia sees things, the statue’s importance requires that it be placed atop a pedestal and displayed in a city park, similar to the Firemen’s Monument on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.
“That’s up to the police,” LaGuardia added, sensitive to the chain of command.
Interestingly, the idea for the statue was born when LaGuardia’s famous father formed a committee “to erect a monument to the Police Department corresponding to the Firemen’s Memorial,” according to the New York City Police Museum.
But World War II broke out shortly thereafter, and Mayor LaGuardia’s plan was ignored and virtually forgotten.
The completed statue was stored for some 15 years in a garage at the NYPD’s 42nd Precinct stationhouse in the Bronx.
Then it was shipped to upstate New York where it was displayed at a camp for police officers and their families in the Catskill mountains. It was not moved to Police Headquarters until the camp was sold in 1983, according to the museum.
The NYPD says the statue is not going anywhere.
“There is no place more prominent or hallowed than the hall where those who have been killed in the line of duty are memorialized,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.
The current placement in the Police Memorial Lobby has made Piccirilli’s creation a popular photographic backdrop following promotion ceremonies.
Newly promoted officers, like Spano, stream past the statue as they exit headquarters, and many stop to pose for a quick picture arm-in-arm with family, just like in the statue.
“It looks perfect,” Dana Weber, 31, said as she reviewed a picture she had taken of her husband, Lt. Kurt Weber, 35, in front of the statue following his promotion last month.
The lieutenant’s proud mother, Barbara Weber, 68, said she cherishes a picture of him standing in front of the statue when he made sergeant in 2005.
“This is part of what the promotion is all about,” she said. “To have your picture taken in front of the bronze statue is almost as important as being up on the stage.
“This way, you are up close and personal.”
By J Lauinger