Laid-Back History: The One-Man-Riot Squad

Johnny Broderick was a tough guy. Tough enough to where he earned the moniker “The One-Man-Riot Squad by the criminal underworld of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Johnny Broderick was born in 1896 in Manhattan, New York. He lost his father early in life (12) and to support his family began driving coal trucks. He served in the U.S Navy during the First World War and after working for the Teamster’s Union as a bodyguard for the infamous union boss Samuel Gompers. Tiring of this, he became a New York City firefighter in 1922. Realizing that firefighters are altogether inferior to police officers, he transferred over to law enforcement in 1923.

He proved this inherent superiority by rescuing two children from a burning building on his first shift. After only three months, he was promoted to detective third grade, an almost unheard of feat as it typically took about five years to do. He topped this by being promoted to Detective First-Grade by 1926. His beat was broadway and, despite his fearsome reputation, dressed the part.

Broderick was brutal. He never bothered to carry a sidearm, instead opting for his fists. In one famous incident, a New York gangster named Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond declared that he would take Broderick “for a ride.” He and his goons proceeded to go looking for Broderick. Upon hearing about this, Broderick went looking for Diamond. When the two finally met, Broderick proceeded to punch Diamond in the face and unceremoniously dump him into a trashcan. This stunt is credited with ending Diamond’s criminal career, as the humiliation caused him to fall from the good graces of the criminal underworld. Diamond would be assassinated in 1931.

Needless to say, Broderick was popular with the New York public. Yeah, he was brutal. Beating criminals unconscious. Kicking them through windows. The whole nine yards. But he was a symbol of justice for New York as the Roaring 20s raged and the Great Depression dragged along. This celebrity resulted in visiting celebrities and dignitaries requesting his services as a bodyguard. The list includes President Roosevelt, Queen Mary of Romania, and King Leopold of Belgium.

There are dozens of crazy stories of Broderick’s exploits. However, like many officials of the day, he was also mired in controversy. In one instance, the New York Supreme Court even let a man off because of how brutally he was beaten by Broderick. Stating that the man had been pretty much crippled and so had received sufficient punishment. He would also beat criminals with an iron bar rolled up into a newspaper, always feigning ignorance about why they were unconscious.

Besides beating suspected criminals, he was known for his backroom deals. Either being paid to beat strikers or being paid to protect strikers. Perhaps being paid to look the other way on some things. You get the picture. This seems to have caught up with him in 1934 when he was demoted but repromoted a few months later. By 1946, he was forced to retire.

Despite his fearsome reputation, Broderick was known to be a devoted family man. He abstained from alcohol and smoking and was appalled when a potential movie about his exploits had the actor smoking and drinking. He was generally quite protective of women as he would often escort them if he saw them walking alone. After his retirement, he would live out the rest of his life with his family in a farmhouse outside of the city and passed away in 1966.

It should be noted that his style of policing was not at all uncommon in his day. He was just particularly good at it. It was this style that had the NYPD distancing themselves from after police reforms in the 1960s. But good or not, you can’t not admire a cop known as the One-Man Riot Squad.


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