Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan Paddles the #RooseveltRiver

My wife, Carmen, and I love cop shows, from the iconic Hill Street Blues and Law and Order to our favorite today, Blue Bloods. We get engaged with the characters, always trying to solve the crime before they do, sometimes wondering why they don’t see the obvious killer right in front of them. Blue Bloods is great because it goes beyond the typical crime drama by following the lives of the New York’s first family of crime fighting the Reagans. We do not miss an episode.

As I explore #RooseveltRiver, I am struck by two things. The first, the countless ways that Roosevelt pops up in my life. Shortly after embarking on the #RooseveltRiver exploration, I was in a meeting regarding the implementation of our new HR system. Each participant in the meeting was given a profile of a new employee to enter to help test the functionality. Me? I was given the new employee Theodore Roosevelt. Hmmmm…several months later, I was at an offsite meeting…sitting in a conference room…the name of the room? The Roosevelt Room, of course. I can’t count the number of times this happens.

business, leadership, history, #RooseveltRiverPresident_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904So, have you seen it? Blue Bloods’ Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) and his striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt? His look, his mannerisms? His trait of always trying to do the “right” thing? The picture of Roosevelt hanging in his office? Honestly, I don’t know if I would have seen it, if it weren’t for my exploration (hey there is a reason I am a CIO and not a detective!). So what is the strong relationship between the fictional Frank Reagan and the very real Theodore Roosevelt? If you aren’t familiar with the show, Selleck’s character is the New York City Police Commissioner, an office once held by Roosevelt himself.

In a recent episode, Reagan feared he was losing touch with the officer on the beat, to help connect, he left his office and his security detail behind and hit the streets to observe, connect and yes, even hold some of the beat cops accountable to the standards of the New York City Police Department. It was an excellent episode.

Do you want to know where Reagan (or at least the writers) got the idea? Ok, you guessed it…from Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became Police Commissioner, he wanted to clean up the department and to hold the officers accountable to a higher standard. How did he do it? He hit the streets. (In fact, Roosevelt was known for trying to clean up things…like politics. His first appointment, by President Benjamin Harrison, was to help clean up civil service. His first step? Clean up civil service in Indianapolis, Harrison’s backyard!)

The second thing that strikes me on the #Roosevelt River, is how I gain new insights and perspectives every time I review Dan’s Guidebooks and my notes. The words jumped of the page, “Your direct presence sends a message”. Roosevelt could have commanded new expectations of behaviors with a stroke of the pen. He then could have relied on the chain of command to implement the changes and hold the officers accountable. Instead, he hit the streets. He knew the mere presence of the Police Commissioner would send a message to the rank and file that a memorandum could never send. His presence said “this is serious”, “he means business”, “you better toe the line”, perhaps even, “I care enough about this message and about you to deliver it myself”.

As a leader, it is important to remember this lesson and how to use it. “Your direct presence sends a message.” It does change the dynamic in the room, the mere presence of the boss or leader does change the dialogue and the tone…and that’s OK…in fact, sometimes it is not only desired, it is necessary to affect the change needed to meet the goals and objectives.

Copyright Terri Heisele

Copyright Terri Heisele

Think about the last time you assumed a new role. What were the first steps you took? Did you use the lesson of Roosevelt and have a direct presence? Would you do it differently the next time? If so, what steps would you change?

#RooseveltRiver is my year long exploration with Dan Miller of Historical Solutions into leadership using the backdrop of history and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. To read more in this series, select “Roosevelt River” from the Category drop down on the right. 

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.


  1. Jason M. says

    The direct presence philosophy I believe is huge because not only do have a better idea what is going on daily, but you are showing people that you are invested on progress/growth of the organization and your people. Great post again!

  2. Anonymous says

    Several years ago I read “Mornings on Horseback” about Teddy’s childhood and youth; when I ended up in NYC with some tour time, I spent 3 hours at his museum. Just recently introduced to Bue Bloods, and enjoying the tension between good and evil portrayed by these actors – television for and by people who have a sense of history.

  3. says

    Thanks Jeffery Ton for your post. I’ve been fascinated by the photo of T.R. in CP Reagan’s office and the similarities and wondered if anyone else made the connection. You are right, they have the same physical presence, same philosophy regarding their post and responsibility to clean up NYPD. I recently downloaded the Kindle version of “The Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean-Up Sin-Loving New York.” The similarities are obvious, not just coincidental. T.R also shared the same love of family. The only difference I can see is that while T.R. was quite loquacious, CP Frank Reagan is a man of few words, but every word counts. Love the thought-provoking writing of this show!

  4. Karen says

    I believe the correct title for Teddy Roosevelt was Superintendent not Commissioner even though they are one in the same. My Mother would have loved Blue Bloods, not because of the content, but she worked and retired from 1 POLICE PLAZA, and she many Commissioners in her tenure.

    • says

      Karen, thank you so much. You are correct. I did not realize it until you pointed it out. I also learned that it was Roosevelt as governor that changed the name from Superintendent to Commissioner. This is one of the reasons I blog…I learn so much! Thank you again and thank you for reading.


  5. Rita Calo says

    I wish our politicians would take advice from Teddy Roosevelt and come out of their Washington D.C, bubble and find out what’s really going on. That’s all politicians and not just seeing their constituents when they want a vote. I love Blue Bloods and I am glad to find this website while trying to find out who the picture was on Reagan’s wall.

  6. Ruven Barkan says

    I found season 3 episode 13 quite sadly ironic when quoting Teddy Roosevelt to oppose the racist radio show host who came to New York when Roosevelt was a proponent of such racism to support his expansionist philosophy. See his political use of Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden.”

  7. Matt Schwalbach says

    Your assumptions are correct.

    I cannot answer for the screenwriters of the show, but as a Theodore Roosevelt historical researcher, I can tell you that as I watched Blue Bloods every week, I am reminded of how much Frank Reagan truly is an accurate portrayal of a Modern Theodore Roosevelt.

    In real life, Theodore Roosevelt was more impressive as NYPD Commissioner, as the NYPD in his day had a problem with beat cops being corrupt and on the take to the highest bidder.
    Theodore Roosevelt changed that as he became commissioner. Instead of getting comfortable behind the desk of his office and ruling with an iron rod from afar, TR stalked the streets of all hours of the day & night to catch his men in the acts of breaking of upholding the law so that in each case he witnessed, the cop was either disciplined immediately or positively reinforced immediately.

    Ultimately, TR is the reason why the NYPD has an international reputation as upholders of the law. Because over 120 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt’s example is still upheld across the department.

    • says


      Thank you very much for reading and commenting on the post. I appreciate your insights. Roosevelt has, indeed, become a guide into leadership for me. I learn new lessons everyday!

  8. Lisa Ann Salada says

    Great info and read.
    I googled Teddy Roosevelt and Tom Selleck after noticing the grand resemblance they shared from the point in the episode where Tom is standing infront of a large photo of Teddy…uncanny. I had to google to see if they have family tieds…curious as a cat. Lol.
    Anyway,ran into to your read and by surprised learned a lot I didnt know about president Theodore Roosevelt(Teddy)…


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