Oct. 28, 1907
You know the song even if you’ve never seen “Pirates of Penzance”: A policeman’s lot is not an easy one” and that is doubly true for one anonymous former LAPD chief.
The ex-chief has nothing but complaints: “It is the most detestable job ever created.” He can’t get enough men and when he does, many of them are political appointees who have friends in high places but nothing upstairs.
“You find a policeman who has been drunk on duty and guilty of the most extravagant dereliction of duty and resolve to make an example of him. The police commissioners give you an awful look, drag you into a side room and tell you never to make any cracks like that again. The cop turns out to be a cousin of somebody’s.”
And while some detectives are good, others “couldn’t find a lighted streetcar on a dark night,” says the ex-chief.
The local politicians forbid him to arrest their friends and the newspapers attack him for not cutting down on crime. Some influential person’s wife drags the hem of her skirt through spit on the sidewalk and suddenly the department is forced to crack down on minor infractions—much to the humor of the newspapers who mock enforcement of trivial laws.
Then the newspapers run their own investigation about local prostitution and accuse you of ignoring vice. When you conduct a raid, they say you are grandstanding for political purposes, the ex-chief says.
“If you try to sweat a man, the reporters roast you for giving the third degree and if you don’t, they say you are a fool who brings cases into court without any evidence.”
The chief blamed his downfall on failing to accept a check to cover the bail of a rich man’s coachman. Although department policy was not to take checks, the rich man thought he should get preferential treatment—and when he didn’t, he vowed to exact his revenge on the chief.
Interestingly enough, while the former chief complained about political appointments, he said the Civil Service system was even worse. It is no secret that well into the 20th century, some Los Angeles law enforcement officers bought their jobs. Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, for example, said that early in his career, under the days of political patronage, men were afraid to go to lunch when a new administration took charge for fear that they wouldn’t have a job when they returned.
e-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com