New York City opens up crime photo archives

From the New York Times…

Here’s one case where, as far as the city is concerned, crime can pay. Among the 840,000 archival images placed online recently by the city’s Department of Records are 1,326 police evidence photographs mostly taken from 1915 to 1920. The Municipal Archives gallery provides free research online and at a new visitors’ center at 31 Chambers Street behind City Hall, but a digital file or 8-by-10 print will cost $45.

The crime scene photos are part of what Eileen Flannelly, a deputy records commissioner, describes as “the largest collection of criminal justice evidence in the world.”

“When I look at these pictures, it’s like looking at an old gangster movie,” Ms. Flannelly said.

But where she sees a body in a barrel, Kenneth Cobb, an assistant records commissioner, focuses on the background.

“I see the spectators looking at the body,” he said, “what people are wearing, the posters on the wall.”

The stark black-and-white images conjure up the gritty, grim underside of a city where politicians were not above anticrime grandstanding; accidents involving automobiles were a relatively new phenomenon (New York claims the dubious distinction of being the site of the first fatal auto accident, on Central Park West in 1899); criminals relied only on the most primitive tools of the trade; courthouses drew a familiar scrum of reporters, photographers and spectators; and law enforcement authorities feared labor unions, anarchists and foreigners in general.

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