Gangsters and Bootleggers...

On August 23, 1916, Chief Frank Pardon died suddenly. Sgt. Thomas O'Brien was chosen to succeed Chief Pardon and in an odd coincidence, the next three Ann Arbor Police Chiefs would die in office.

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In 1919, the department's sworn strength was 13 men. Salaries for the officers were $149.28 a month, which were low even for this period. Due to this low salary, many officers resigned to take jobs in the industrial field, as the pay was better. This was the start of decades of trying to keep officers from accepting jobs in the private field, where the pay was higher.

The life of a patrol officer was not an easy one in the 1920's. Officers worked long 12 hours shifts for substandard pay. The city at this time consisted of 26,000 people, while the department had 15 officers and one Model T Ford, which was confiscated from a bootlegger.

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Although crime was low, the prohibition period brought gangsters and bootleggers into Ann Arbor. These bootleggers smuggled moonshine liquor into the city and officers spent a great deal of time investigating these violations.

Officers were very suspicious of people in vehicles that they were unfamiliar with, as often these were bootleggers from out of town. Officers William Marz and Erwin Keebler had an encounter with suspected bootleggers that almost turned deadly for them, during the early morning of April 15, 1927.

The officers were preparing for their shift when Officer Keebler put on a bulletproof vest and asked Officer Marz to do the same. These vests were made of lead and were quite heavy. When Officer Keebler asked Marz to wear one, he refused, stating that the vests were too heavy. Keebler persisted stating, “You'd better strap that thing on. You never know what might happen and besides it will keep you warm.” His persistence would save Officer Marz's life.

The officers went on patrol, both of them wearing a bulletproof vest. While on patrol they stopped a black Ford Coupe for suspected bootlegging and searched the vehicle. The officers did not find any liquor, but neither the driver or passenger could answer their questions about who owned the vehicle. The officers felt the car was stolen, so they ordered the driver to follow the patrol car to the police station.

In those days, most of the vehicles had running boards. When officers ordered a vehicle to the station they would stand on one of the running boards and direct the driver to the police station. As most officers walked the beat, it was a convenient way to get to the station.

The officers told the driver that he would have to go to the police station so the incident could be investigated further. The driver was ordered to follow Officer Keebler as he drove to the police station, while Officer Marz stood on the running board of the suspect's vehicle.

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They were almost to the police station when, at the corner of Fifth and Huron, the passenger in the car withdrew a revolver from underneath the seat and began shooting at Officer Marz. Officer Marz was struck five times and was knocked off the running board, into the street. The suspects fled, and were not arrested. They fled to Detroit where the gunman was later shot to death by Detroit Police Officers. What Officers Keebler and Marz did not know, was that the suspects were wanted for kidnapping and murder in Detroit. Officer Marz recovered from his wounds and was saved due to the bulletproof vest.

When I discovered that Officer Marz was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was skeptical as I did not believe the department had them in 1927. I spoke to Major Zeck about the incident and when he started with the city in the 1950's, the department still had the lead vests. He said they were in fact very heavy and the officers did not wear them.

I tried to find more information on the incident, but was unable to do so. Many of the incidents in this book were researched from old newspaper accounts. Another way I found information about incidents which occurred early in the century, was through relatives. Many grandsons and granddaughters of officers were very eager to give stories of their grandfather's career.

While the department had a patrol car and motorcycle, beat officers provided most of the policing in the 1920's. Officers Red Howard and Ben Ball were the most popular among them. Officer Ball started with the department in 1925 and retired in 1955. He was well known and liked by citizens and merchants. In the 1920's, he dealt with numerous bootleggers, watching passing cars, looking for a vehicle's rear end almost touching the ground, knowing it was generally moonshine weighing the car down.

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Many officers who started in the 1920's went their entire careers walking the beat and never driving a patrol car. Patrol cars and radios, that were used in the 1950's, when many of these officers were retiring, were felt to be novelties.

The city council continued to be in charge of the police department and many thought this was a conflict of interest. Many within the community proposed the establishment of a police commission, so the department would be run impartially, without political influences. A proposed board of police commissioners would be selected by the mayor and approved by the city council. This commission would be responsible for the budgeting, hiring and firing for the department. The chief would report directly to the police commissioners. It was felt that the commission would eliminate political pressures from the chief, insulate him from political controversies, which would enable him to focus on the day to day operations.

An amendment to the city charter was passed in January of 1923, which established the police commission. Clarence Snyder, George Burke and John Swisher were the first police commissioners and began service on May 7, 1923.

The commission served admirably for more than thirty years before it was disbanded in 1956, when the city charter was passed. When the new charter was established, it created the position of city manager with the chief reporting to this newly established position. Guy Larcom Jr. was the city's first city manager and Chief Enkemann then reported to him.

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In 1927, the police commission requested council to approve a three platoon system for the department, thereby adding a third sergeant. This reduced the officers hours from ten hour days to eight. It also forced the city to hire eight additional officers but the rank of lieutenant was abolished. The lieutenant was then made a plainclothes officer. Future Chief Sherman Mortenson was promoted to the rank of sergeant and the sworn strength of the department was now 29 men.

Up to that point officers worked long hours for little pay. They typically worked 12 hours days and vacations were earned only after three years on the force. In 1917 or 1918, the officer's hours were reduced to 10 hours a day and they received one day off a month. It was not until 1921 that the officers received one day off a week.

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