31 THE COPS – HARNESS BULLS
Fans of American crime movies know well the scene where a dumb corrupt cop reminds the good cop about jurisdiction and boundaries. District, city, county, state and federal demarcation shape policing in the USA. If the histories of Chicago crime that exist refer to events and individuals, few explain well the organisation of the police, how it works and was developed. Or at least in a way that makes sense to us on the other side of the Atlantic. The bureaucratic terms or handles do not help. Tough private eyes give lip to the DA but the perplexed chap on the other side of the desk might be a District Attorney, a County Attorney, a Prosecuting Attorney, a Commonwealth Attorney, an Assistant District Attorney, an Administrative District attorney, an Executive District Attorney or a First Assistant District Attorney. There are also State Attorneys, Assistant Attorney Generals that have authority at State level and Assistant Attorney Generals that have federal jurisdiction. G A Youngquist was a Minnesota Assistant Attorney General before he was promoted and went to Washington. There he became an United States Assistant Attorney General and answered to the Attorney General. If all this sounds like mere play with semantics, when Capone appeared in court to be tried for income tax evasion sixteen attorneys represented the prosecution team. Even the uncomplicated DAs that attempt to lay down the law to gumshoes Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and the rest can have responsibility for several departments, each specialising in specific aspects of criminal law. A DA also can have a team of investigating officers. Perry Mason might have been restricted to a couple in the TV series but, at the height of bootlegging in Chicago, the State Attorney Robert E Crowe was assigned 40 police officers. The head of the Chicago Police Department has also had various titles. These include High Constable, City Marshall, General Superintendent, Superintendent of Police and, now less used than previously, Commissioner. In Chicago, the heads of the Districts or Precincts are called Commanders but their previous title was Police Captain.
To add to the confusion there are national agencies. The Prohibition Agency, previously the Prohibition Unit, had a roll call of agents for day-to-day business but also set up special units and teams. The most famous is the team that was headed by prohibition agent Eliot Ness. The Internal Revenue Service was previously known as the Bureau of Inland Revenue. The job descriptions in the Internal Revenue Service must have been imprecise because Patrick Roche and Clarence Converse of the Internal Revenue Bureau led an Elliot Ness style raid on an illegal brewery. Art Madden was directed to Chicago and appointed as a special investigator by Elmer Irey, the big tax boss in Washington. Madden and Al Capone arrived in Chicago around the same time. And just to make it more complicated, business leaders envisaged a policing role for the private sector. The Chicago Crime Commission and the Secret Six were created by two groups of businessmen. The Chicago Crime Commission was formed in 1919. The Secret Six was formed in 1930. Both organisations believed the activity of Al Capone was bad for business. The efforts of the Chicago Crime Commision were restricted to collecting information, identifying the concerns of citizens and applying political pressure. The Chicago Crime Commission listed and ranked criminals and gangsters as public enemies. This not only had an impact on the press and public but also inspired the title of a James Cagney movie. The Secret Six employed ex-policemen and agents and harassed the bootleggers and disrupted illegal breweries. Some of its behaviour was criminal, and the vigilante group was disbanded, probably to avoid being arrested.
Frank Loesche was President of the Chicago Crime Commission. In 1928 the primary elections in Chicago inspired violence and bombings. Loesche was determined that the subsequent Mayoral elections that year would not be marred in the same way. He approached Capone who ensured that the balloting process was fair and voters were not subjected to intimidation. Morris Becker was the owner of a chain of laundries. Harassed by racketeers, Becker asked State Attorney Robert Crowe for protection. Nothing happened. Becker employed Al Capone to repel the racketeers. The partnership was a success. Capone has been credited with not just restoring order but reducing laundry prices. Becker said that because of Capone he had no need for the police or courts. Becker, the legitimate businessman, described Capone as ‘the most honest partner I could have asked for.’ Big Al was not only the most famous criminal in the country, he made his own contribution to law enforcement in Chicago. Who would have thought?
J Edgar Hoover was the director of the Justice Department’s Division of Investigation. His department later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover kept his distance from bootleggers and racketeers. Always more interested in left wing activists and a political man in every sense, he worried that his agents might become corrupted in the investigation of wealthy bootleggers. The economic depression, though, required a serious response from the government. President Roosevelt was willing to explore national economic remedies and he increased federal power. In a different political climate he appointed Attorney General Homer Cummings to declare a War on Crime. Even President Herbert Hoover, a man that had supposedly put his faith in the private sector, could not resist interfering in local enforcement. When advised by Assistant Attorney General G A Youngquist that Illinois District Attorney George W Johnson was in charge of the Capone investigation, Hoover requested that his Attorney General William D Mitchell adopt a more aggressive approach to Capone. The inevitable happened. Mitchell announced that he would send one of his ‘special assistants’ to oversee the investigation of Al Capone.
The considerable manpower of bureaucrats and politicians put Capone in prison, not the Chicago police. These ´superior forces´ also needed the sly tricks of Judge James Wilkerson. More than once in the trial of Capone the anything but impartial judge sidelined the rule of law. The Chicago police of the bootleg era are usually described as corrupt. This may be true but it also had the impossible task of implementing a law that was unworkable or at least unworkable in an urban environment. The figures, though, are damning. In 1926 the Chicago police arrested 20,000 people on felony charges. 647 were sent to the penitentiary. Of these only 164 were identified as having ‘major criminal records’.
The first Chicago police constable was appointed in 1828. The job title changed in 1831. He became a police sheriff. He did not patrol the streets. A night watch was instituted in 1839, and nine daytime patrolmen were added in 1853. The Chicago City Council created the police department in 1861. Pensions for the police were introduced in 1897. The first African American male police officer, James G Shelton, was appointed in 1871. The first African American female police officer, Grace Wilson, was appointed in 1918. African American police officers were restricted to plain clothes duty and were not permitted to arrest white citizens. African American sergeants were not allowed to supervise white police officers. Police officers received no formal training until 1910. Before that and in 1906 a mounted police team was created to control traffic. Nine years later there were motorbike cops that chased speedsters. By the 1920s heavily armed detectives rode in squad cars, three of which had been introduced in 1908. Initially a policeman would patrol for 63 hours a week. The 48 hour week, six shifts of eight hours, and fifteen days of vacation arrived in 1931. In the same year a Presidential commission criticised the Chicago police for using excessive violence. The tradition was maintained in the 1980s TV series Crime Story. There was rarely an episode when the Chicago Crime Unit led by Detective Mike Torello did not shoot and kill half a dozen people. The years between 1920 and 1939 experienced the highest number of police casualties. 40% of all police casualties in the history of the Chicago police department occurred in those years. Today there are 25 districts and in charge of each of them is a Commander. He or she is supported by Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants. The person in charge of the police department is called the Superintendent of Police. Within the police department are the Bureau of Patrol, Bureau of Detectives, Bureau of Organised Crime and a Bureau of Internal Affairs. The police department also provides various communication services on matters that range from bicycle registration to prostitution arrests.
John Stege was compromised by having to work with corrupt District Attorney Robert E Crowe. On July 25 1930 the Cook County Jury praised Stege as a ‘capable, efficient and honest officer’. In The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, authors William J Helmer and Arthur J Bilek suggest that one allegation of corruption might have merit. In Get Capone, author Jonathan Eig mentions John Stege resigning from the Chicago Police Department on two separate occasions. The first was on August 13 1927 and happened in response to the revelation that the real name of the admired Chief of Detectives was John Stedge. The Chief had been convicted of murder at the age of fifteen. Presumably John Stege was reinstated at some point because he resigned again in 1931. Crooked reporter Jake Lingle had been killed the year before, and progress of the investigation of the high profile murder had been slow. Stege had also vacationed with mob-connected Lingle. Both Stege and the Chicago police commissioner William F Russell were obliged to resign. The two men had witnessed technological advances. Radio broadcasting between cars had begun in 1930. A year earlier the Chicago police department established the first crime laboratory in response to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
And for those that wondered, harness bulls is slang for uniformed policemen.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book BORIS JOHNSON PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES is now available here.