I usually make it a habit to stay out of police precincts — I’ve never been hauled in for a crime, and the only other occasion I’d have to visit is if I have to report one. But exteriors are a different story, and the 108th Precinct building on 50th Avenue in Hunters Point is one of many architecturally beautiful buildings in NYC. It was constructed in 1903 and designed by architect Thomas Short.
Like most, if not all, precinct buildings in NYC, the entranceway is flanked by two green lights, lightbulbs shining through green-colored glass. The stanchions at the 108th are especially flamboyant, surrounded by spikes, scrolls and other wrought-iron decorations.
According to the NYPD website it’s believed that the Rattle Watchmen (they used rattles to warn the populace about fires or other dangers), a military unit that patrolled New Amsterdam when the Dutch controlled the city (ca. 1625-1664), carried lanterns that shone through green glass as a means of identification. When they returned to their watch house after patrols they hung these lanterns outside the door to let everyone know they had returned. Thus, the green lights became a symbol of vigilance.
Do the police departments in other cities have traditions like this?