Soho square named for hero officer doubles in size

Last month, Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Councilmember Alan Gerson joined with Italian Consulate General Francesco Maria Talo, N.Y.P.D. Organized Crime Control Bureau Chief Anthony Izzo, relatives of Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, Community Board 2 members and the Friends of Petrosino Square to open the newly renovated Joseph Petrosino Square Park in Soho. 

The park is named for the only New York City police officer to die while on duty outside the United States. 

Petrosino Park is at the crossroads of Little Italy, Chinatown and the Bowery, in what some call Nolita. The park now features new pavements and curbs, fencing, plantings, benches and a drinking fountain. The park is also double its former size, after being expanded onto Lafayette and Spring Sts. Its $2 million reconstruction was funded entirely by Gerson. 

Also in attendance at the event were Nino Milito, Petrosino’s grandnephew and the director of the Petrosino Museum in Padula, Italy; Joseph A. Petrosino, a Brooklyn assistant district attorney and another grandnephew of Petrosino’s; and his son, Joseph M. Petrosino, who is continuing his family’s tradition by serving as a New York City police officer. 

Petrosino was born in Salerno, Italy, in 1860 and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1873. At age 18 he joined Sanitation, then under the Police Department’s jurisdiction. He aided the police by working undercover as an informer in Little Italy before joining the Police Department in 1883. He was the department’s shortest officer at 5 feet 3 inches tall. 

In 1895, Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt promoted Petrosino to sergeant of detectives. While investigating anarchists in the U.S., Petrosino warned President McKinley of threats plotted against his life. McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Petrosino later became a lieutenant and was given command of the new Italian Squad to combat the crime organization known as the Black Hand. 

Under his leadership, many arrests and convictions were made, halving the crime rate against Italian-Americans. Petrosino was assassinated in Palermo, Italy, in 1909 while on assignment investigating criminal records of organized crime leaders for their deportation. 

Formerly Kenmare Square, the park was renamed in Petrosino’s memory by a local law, introduced by Councilmember Miriam Friedlander, passed by the City Council, and signed by Mayor Ed Koch in 1987.