A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 16, 2007
“We own the night” (Street Crimes Unit motto)

"We own the night” was the unofficial motto of the New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit in the 1990s.  The unit was disbanded in 2002.

The phrase “We own the night” was also used in the Vietnam War era in the 1960s, but achieved greatest popularity during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s (when special night weapons were used). “We Own the Night” is the title of a 2007 film about the New York City Police Department in the 1980s, but there is no evidence that the phrase was used at that time.


Wikipedia: Street Crimes Unit
The New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit is a now-defunct city anti-crime unit that gained notoriety after the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo. The four officers involved in Diallo’s killing were all members of the unit. The unit was disbanded in 2002 due to negative publicity from the Diallo scandal. The unit was last headed by Assistant Chief Bruce H. Smolka, who was later promoted. The Street Crimes Unit is now replaced by precinct-based Anti-Crime Units.

Their motto was “We Own The Night.” This implied that the Police Department was in charge of the night and not the criminals who often struck the weak and elderly at night. 

Real Movie News
We Own The Night (2007) Synopsis:
Set against the turbulent world of Russian organized crime and an embattled New York City Police Department in the 1980s, a Russian narcotics gang has a hit list of NYPD officers and it is up to Joseph, a night club manager to save his brother Bobby and father who are next on this list.

We Own The Night (2007) Movie Review:
There are superb themes swirling around in this New York cops and mafia thriller, plus some strong performances, although it’s a bit too deliberate and over-serious to keep us thoroughly engaged.

Bobby (Phoenix) comes from a long line of distinguished Brooklyn cops, including his father Burt (Duvall) and brother Joe (Walhberg). But Bobby has turned his back on all that, changing his surname from Grusinsky to Green and taking a job managing a drug-filled disco on Brighton Beach. When Joe takes charge of the narcotics team, the brothers find themselves on a collision course. As the drug-supplying Russian mafia puts Burt and Joe in their gun-sights, Bobby is going to have to make some tough decisions about which side he’s on.

The title comes from the NYPD’s 1980s motto (the story’s set in 1988), and it’s clearly meant to convey both irony and a present-day relevance, as the story parallels current events in America and abroad.

Google Books
Home: Social essays
by LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka)
New York, NY: Morrow
1966
Pg. 251:
The day will not save them
and we own
the night. 

18 January 1966, Charleston (WV) Gazette, pg. 1, cols. 5-6:
About three-quarters of his Marine fighting men operated at night, he said, adding: “We own the night now, not the Viet Cong.”

Google Books
An American Solider
a novel by Michael Lynch
Boston, MA: Little, Brown
1969
Pg. 121:
They actually believe they own the darkness. They broadcast that on their radio. We own the night, they say, and the Americans wish their big guns own only the daylgiht. 

2 February 1990, Washington (DC) Times:
“We wanted to go in at 1 o’clock in the morning because we own the night,” Gen. Kelly said. “Our forces train at night, and just about no one else’s do.”

14 September 1990, St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, “Experts say land assault would be only way to oust Iraq” by Mike Feinsilber (AP), pg. 2A:
“We own the night with our military force,” Merritt said. “All our tanks and aircraft are night fighters. 

17 February 1991, Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, pg. 1:
“The buzzword you hear all the time from the military is ‘We own the night,’” he said. “Our track record has been very, very good in Desert Storm.”

15 February 1999, New York (NY) Times, “Success of Elite Police Unit Exacts a Toll on the Streets” by David Kocieniewski, pg. A1:
They are known as the commandos of the New York Police Department, an elite squad of nearly 400 officers who are dispatched into menacing neighborhoods each night to chase down rapists, muggers and dangerous fugitives, and above all, to get illegal guns off the streets.

They make up less than 2 percent of the police force, but they seize 40 percent of all illegal guns confiscated in the city. They proudly proclaim, “We own the night,” and they quote Ernest Hemingway to express their devotion to hunting down armed criminals.

21 February 1999, New York (NY) Times, “Dismantle the Barriers” by Bob Herbert, pg. WK17:
“We own the night” is the motto of the gung-ho Street Crimes Unit, which is charged with, among other things, taking illegal guns off the street.

22 February 2000, New York (NY) Times, “Erecting Blue Wall of Solidarity at the Diallo Trial” by Dan Barry and Amy Waldman, pg. B5:
For all the cockiness of the Street Crime Unit (its motto is “We own the night"), each officer admitted to fearing death that night.

5 March 2000, New York (NY) Times, “Squads That Tripped Up Walking the Bad Walk” by Jane Fritsch, pg. WK6:
Critics have accused the Street Crime Unit of promoting a reckless, cowboy culture that is separate from the rest of the New York Police Department. Its unofficial slogan is “We own the night.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • (0) Comments • Sunday, December 16, 2007 • Permalink