NYPD’s Inspector General

William Tallman Davis   1869 – 1959


William was the son of Mary Estelle Tallman and Theodore Whitehead Davis, and a grandson of Judge John P H Tallman.  He joined the Bronx Police Department on 15 Dec 1896, one month later January 21st, 1897, President of NYC Police Commissioners Theodore Roosevelt (1) appointed William a Patrolman.  He spent the next 20 years associated with the mounted squad.  Before ending his career, he would wear two stars for bravery and a bronze medal for heroic events.  The first of these took place on December 9th, 1902 (2) in the Bronx, when he stopped a downhill rider-less runaway lumber wagon headed for a trolley.  In doing so he was dragged a block and spent two months recuperating from his injuries.  For this, he was promoted to “Roundsman” (a supervisory officer) and transferred to the Newtown Police Station.  Officially promoted to Sergeant on 27 December 1902.  The second event occurred on April 30th, 1903, (3) he was on the corner of Covert Avenue and Ralph Street when he saw a runaway horse and wagon occupied by two children.  Managing to catch the horse by the bridle and stopping it, the little girl remained onboard but, the sudden stop caused the little boy to fall out and was badly bruised.  The rig belonged to their father Samuel France of Brooklyn.  His next promotion came December 7th, 1905, he was now a Lieutenant and transferred to the Bureau of Repairs & Supplies.  In August of 1910 (4) he was presented a bronze medal by the U.S. Life Saving Association for saving a man from drowning at Coney Island the previous August.  December of that year he was invited to visit President Taft at the White house to discuss the upcoming annual Lieutenants Association meeting.  In January 1911 he was Grand Marshall and special escort of Governor John Dix at the annual Lieutenants dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria.

It was while at the Bureau of Repairs & Supplies he became acquainted with Lt. Richard Edward Enright.  Enright went on to become the first man appointed from the ranks to Police Commissioner serving from January 23, 1918 to January 1, 1925.  For years, William was reported in newspapers to be one of his “closest associates, right-hand man, personal friend, etc.”(5)  He was promoted to Captain in April 1919 and placed in Enright’s old position as head of the Repairs & Supplies.  On New Year’s 1920, he was transferred to command of the West 100th Street Station the first step to Inspectorship.  In October 1920, he was promoted to “Acting Inspector General” and officially “Inspector General” on April 7th, 1921.

During this period is when things became very interesting in William’s career, his responsibility now laid as Commander of the Traffic Division.  With automobiles rolling off assembly lines by the thousands, and changing the primary mode of travel it created a whole new set of problems for police to figure out how to monitor and regulate.  In a lengthy 1922 presentation he gave to the Poughkeepsie Rotarians on New York City traffic problems based on facts for the year 1921.  Some of the figures are mind boggling for the time-period.  Examples are as follows: 93,217,798 paid passengers passed through the Times Square Subway Station; 344,931 licensed automobiles were involved in 27,056 traffic accidents, with 21,309 deaths and/or injuries including 6,914 children under the age of 16.  The records also show that 231 children were injured or died while hitching rides on the backs of vehicles.  Police became active in recommending parents and schools in teaching children safety in the streets.  They kept three huge maps in headquarters with color coated pins to show concentrations and types of accidents.  The city’s traffic controls were established in February 1920 with five towers erected at the intersections of 34th, 37th, 42nd, 50th, and 57th Streets with 5th Avenue. (6)“Each tower is equipped with two sets of three lights.  A yellow is shown for 90 seconds during which time north and south bound traffic is allowed to proceed.  The yellow light is then turned off and a red light is shown for a period of five seconds.  This is to clear the. Intersection of vehicles and pedestrians.  The green light is then turned on and east and west bound traffic is allowed to proceed for a period of one minute at the end of which the red light is again shown for the purpose of clearing the intersection, followed by the yellow light which permits the north and south traffic to proceed.  All five towers are operated in unison from the tower at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue.”  In September of 1923 (7) he was sent as part of a contingent to Europe to study what the Europeans were doing to solve similar problems.  One of the things he came away with was what they were doing to alleviate parking problems on major thoroughfares.

Elected positions he held during his career were, secretary-treasurer (8) of the NYPD Lieutenants Association and President (9) of the New York Police Chiefs Association in 1923-24.  On February 18, 1923, he presided over an Anniversary dinner for the Deputy Commissioner and met child movie star Jackie Coogan (10) who gave a speech.  He married Hattie Viola Robinson in 1891 and they were the parents of two daughters, Viola Tallman Davis born 28 May 1893 and Estelle Whitehead Davis born 30 December 1894.  William retired on April 11th, 1924, he was presented with a gold watch, a chest of silver and his wife also present received a miniature clock.  Upon his retirement he accepted the position of Superintendent of the New York State Police Camp at Tannersville in the Catskills.  That fall however there was a fire at the camp in which he suffered a back injury.  The injury (11) caused him to have 3 back surgeries over the next year and after recovering he and Viola retired to St. Petersburg, Florida.


1) His promotions and appointments up to Lieutenant were from an article in the The New York Sun, Saturday, April 26, 1919.

2) The New York Press, Monday Morning, March 2, 1903.

3) The Newtown Register, Thursday, April 30, 1903.

4) The New York Times, Thursday, May 11, 1911.

5) From numerous New York and Brooklyn papers he’s labeled a personal friend and confidant.

6) The Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, 1921.

7) The New York Times, Sunday, August 26, 1923.

8) The New York Evening Telegram, Wednesday, February 23, 1916.

9) From the New York Police Chiefs Organization.

10) The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday, February 18, 1923.

11) The New York Sun, Friday, October 30, 1925.

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