For all the notoriety that the FBI has received over the years in regards to working against the Mafia, there have been scores of local and state police who had been on the front lines of the war on the rackets. The street-level cops were usually the ones who the mob tried to bribe first, but they were also the ones who usually knew what was going on in the neighborhood and where the gangsters' operations were.
Joe Coffey is one of the most recognizable mob busters, due to his book and numerous TV appearances on cable news shows. The one-time head of the Organized Crime Control Bureau for the NYPD, Sergeant Joe was on the front lines, going toe-to-toe with the bad guys until he himself was put under a cloud of suspicion. He retired from the police force, became a state investigator, and cemented his reputation as a respected authority on the subject. It was Joe who first heard about the murderous Irish gangsters, the Westies, and started investigating the group. Coffey also dealt with other criminals, including serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. Joe's sharp New York accent and stereotypical Irish cop appearance made him a natural for the news cameras. He's now a consultant for numerous news channels.
Who promoted Joe Petrosino through the ranks?
That would be our twenty-sixth president, Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy was the police commissioner from 1895 to 1897. Petrosino was promoted to the head of the homicide division under Roosevelt's tutelage.
The Original Mob Buster
Joe Petrosino was the original mob buster. An immigrant from Campa-nia, land of the Camorra, Joe was dedicated to ridding his ethnic community of the scourge of the Black Hand. It was unusual at that time for an Italian to enter the police force. The NYPD, though, had a need for new immigrants to tackle the emerging gangster menace.
Joe was moved to a new division, the Italian Squad, dedicated to working the Italian community to root out Mafia influence. Joe hated the mob, and saw it as a stain on the character of his community. One of his targets was an elusive mob power, Vito Cascio Ferro. The mob boss fled New York to avoid prosecution. Petrosino made a bold move — he sailed to Italy to bring the criminal to justice. Unfortunately Ferro's tentacles reached far. After an evening dinner in Palermo, Sicily, Petrosino was waiting for a trolley when he had to relieve himself. With the dearth of proper public restrooms, he took to the bushes. Two gunmen took that opportunity to shoot Joe in the back, killing him instantly.