Shoving ‘toughies’ Away from the ‘line-up’ is Costuma’s Job
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Shoving ‘toughies’ Away from the ‘line-up’ is Costuma’s Job

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As a policeman whose duty it is to keep criminals out of jail, it is impossible to say how many wayward boys and girls have passed through the capable hands of Inspector Louis F. Costuma, executive officer of the New York Police Department’s Crime Prevention Bureau.

Highest Jewish ranking officer in the Police Department, at present, Inspector Costuma established an unofficial bureau for the prevention of crime even before the City Charter was amended to create an official one. Now he is in charge of the two hundred-odd members of the unit, which participates with all other constructive social agencies in the full-sized job of keeping young “toughies” of both sexes out of that “line-up” every morning at nine o’clock at Police Headquarters on Centre street.

This is the chief purpose of Inspector Costuma’s Bureau: to keep erring youth from growing up into ering maturity. For this purpose ninety-six patrolmen, seventy-five trained women investigators, and some twenty sergeants and lieutenants informally exhort, advise, spank, and arrange circuses for the 6,000 or so cases that annually reach the Bureau.


Youthful gangs, of course, mainly engage the attention of the Crime Prevention Bureau. Many cases arrive via complaints of school – teachers and principals. Others come from the inability of parents to deal with incorrigable children. These are all grist to Inspector Costuma’s mill.

A typical instance of the situations which reach the Bureau is that of the Forty Thieves Gang. Young romantics, hanging around a pool-room while waiting for a chance to descend on parked trucks and sample the contents, heard themselves referred to by a well-read citizen as the Forty Thieves.

They liked the title and from then on the name was theirs. It gave them a mark for which to strive, so to speak, and they were spurred on to renewed efforts. A few of the group became involved in robberies and burglaries from stores. Seven of the gang, which really numbered thirty, were arrested. The rest, imbued with a new respect for the police, were persuaded to take jobs, which were found for them, and the younger ones introduced to boys’ clubs, where a lieutenant drew their attention to the delights of boxing, checker-playing and hiking in the parks of a Sunday.

The anxiety of this police unit to keep impressionable children away from custody in police-stations, jails and reformatories, where they might come into contact with matured criminals is in striking contrast to former procedure. Inspector Costuma, himself a former teacher in the department’s academy for rookies, understands the more theoretical demands of police work.

Although in the department for the last twenty-eight years, passing through all the stages from patrolman to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy inspector, he gives the impression of a rather shrewd civilian, particularly because he usually wears ordinary garb, rather than the grim veteran of a quarter of a century’s wrestle with crime.


One of the classics of the bureau is a story told to a crime prevention officer by four boys who were implicated in the burglary of a certain department store and a neighboring bicycle shop. The boys were fifteen or younger, one of them only twelve.

Joe, a fifteen-year old, once read about Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s travels in Africa and saw them in the movies several times. He made a map of an African valley where the Orange River flows. This river flows so swiftly that it washes out diamonds on the bank. He decided, with the help of the other boys, to get few bags of diamonds and bring them back to the United States. Needing rifles and equipment they were forced to the nearest depositaries.

On Sunday the four boys met and started out. They broke the skylight on the roof of the bicycle store and lowered Edwin, the twelve-year-old, down by a rope. He handed out two rifles and about 200 rounds of ammunition, which they hid away. That same night they went to the department store, climbed a stand-pipe, broke the skylight and lowered two boys in. Two more rifles, sixty boxes of ammunition and four flash-lights passed up to them.


The next day the group entrained at Jersey City, where they attempted to hide themselves prior to embarking via the stowaway route. Balked in both attempts, they decided to go to Canada, where they could shoot wild-game, sell the pelts and make enough money to reach Africa. At Paterson, N. J., they met a man who took their rifles away from them and told them to beat it back to New York. The following day they appeared in their class-rooms as if nothing had happened.

A man’s social organization was found to pay George’s dues in a boy’s club, also to fix his teeth, which were found, in passing, to be in a deplorable condition; Joe was introduced to the Junior Naval Militia, as was David. But Edwin is still a problem to the Crime Prevention Bureau, youngest though he is. He is extremely bright and gets the highest marks in school, but he won’t co-operate.

Inspector Costuma has 6,000 problems like these a year.

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