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February 15, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Cop’s family legacy found on NYPD sleeves for nearly 90 years

November 26, 2018
NYPD Sgt. Chris Hewitson’s late grandfather, while still a teen, designed the patch the department’s Emergency Service Unit has been using for nearly 90 years. (Alec Tabak for New York Daily News)

Every time NYPD Sgt. Chris Hewitson meets a member of the department’s Emergency Service Unit, he has a story to tell them.

That’s because ESU cops are wearing Hewitson’s family legacy right on their sleeves. Hewitson’s late grandfather, while still a teen, designed the patch the elite unit has been using for nearly 90 years.

“Every time I bump into an ESU guy, I tell them about it,” Hewitson, 47, said of grandfather Peter Hewitson’s enduring design — a blue truck topped with gold handrails modeled after a 1925 emergency vehicle.

“I am really proud of it. The more I think about it the prouder I get.”

The history of the patch — one of the most recognizable in the NYPD — was lost until Hewitson made a discovery in his parents’ home about 20 years ago. He found an early sketch of the patch and a yellowing newspaper article about the achievement in a frame.

The original Emergency Service Unit patch (left) and a contemporary one are seen at Police Headquarters.
The original Emergency Service Unit patch (left) and a contemporary one are seen at Police Headquarters. (Alec Tabak for New York Daily News)

“I found it while I was cleaning out their basement,” Hewitson remembered. “I went to my mother and said, ‘Ma, what is this?’ They said they found it cleaning out my grandparents’ house.”

“It was all news to me and my father,” he said about the ESU patch.

The article told the tale: Peter Hewitson, a 19-year-old police buff who in the 1920s befriended many high-ranking members of the NYPD, beat out several artists with his winning design for the Police Emergency Squad insignia in 1929.

In the 1930s, the Police Emergency Squad became the ESU — specially trained and equipped cops who are called in to leap out of helicopters, climb bridges and rappel down buildings as part of difficult raids and rescues.

The emblem, Peter Hewitson proudly told the paper, “will assure the men that they will not be mistaken for bill collectors or furniture movers.”

The edges of the article were clipped close so nobody knows what newspaper the article appeared in or the exact publication date, although it’s believed to be in the spring of 1929.

The article mentions some scuttlebutt that Hewitson won because he was close friends with several city administrators and Police Commissioner Grover Whalen.

The Scotland native and amateur boxer balked at the idea.

“That’s a lot of applesauce, just a lot of jealousy,” he told the author of the article his grandson later found.

Chris Hewitson joined the department in 1996. He said he often dreamed of joining the ESU, but his career path took him in a different direction. He’s currently a neighborhood coordination officer in Midtown, where he fields crime concerns from residents and local businesses.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said about the ESU.

For a while, he kept a copy of his grandfather’s newspaper article in his car — in case someone accused him of being full of applesauce.

“Maybe I’ll design an NYPD patch and pass it along to the department,” he joked. “Keep it in the family.”

Despite his love for the department, Hewitson’s grandfather never walked the beat because he was about an inch below the height requirement to be a city cop. He ended up working for one of the first distributors for Wise potato chips.

The height requirement was eliminated decades later.

Peter Hewitson’s son, also named Peter — Sgt. Chris Hewitson’s father — joined the NYPD in 1965 and served 33 years. But the man who created the enduring ESU emblem died three years before his son entered the academy.

Now a retired NYPD lieutenant, Peter Hewitson said his father never mentioned his winning design.

“I knew he always wanted to be a cop,” the son said.

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