Probe of Police Department Ordered by City Council

In June of 1939, a probe of the police department was ordered by the city council. They had become concerned with rumors of misconduct by the officers and the way in which the department was being run by the police commission. This investigation was conducted by a committee of three members of the council.

The origins of the probe began with the police commission's decision to grant Chief Fohey sick leave and to appoint Sgt. Cook as acting chief, without their consultation. Researching this probe I could find little, if any rationale for it, but did find concerns of the councilmen that they thought the department was under the influence of “certain groups.” I was not able to find who these groups were however.

In any event, the investigation was ordered by the city council, which had the power to conduct the hearings and compel witnesses to testify. The council ordered this investigation with the following resolution, “Resolved, that an investigation be made by this body in the affairs, conduct and operations of the police department and the board of police commissioners.

“Resolved further, that an investigation be made by this body in the affairs, conduct and operations of the police department and the board of police commissioners.

“Resolved further, that for the purpose of conducting such investigation, a committee consisting of three members of the council be appointed by the president of the council and that in addition thereto, the president of the council be a member of such committee.”

I am quite certain the police commissioners were not happy with such an investigation. The police commission was founded to keep politics out of the police department and it appeared this investigation was going to do just that. Police Commission Chairman Herbert Frisinger stated, “Certainly the police commission has done nothing improper, we feel the council is entitled to know about it. If we have done anything improper the investigation will give us a chance to improve or to remedy it.

“If any member of the department has been guilty of any misconduct or has stepped out of line in any regard, the commission wants to know it so as to remedy the situation. Our ambition is to have the finest police department in the United States.”

The police commission responded by appointing Detroit Police Lieutenant Claude Broom as acting superintendent of the department. This was done so the superintendent could study “the department's organization.”

Superintendent Broom was appointed for three months to this position and was to make recommendations in the following areas: Increased organization of the traffic units; improved record keeping systems; better means of coping with crime, especially gambling; establishing a more uniform discipline system and trial board; and establishment of a merit system for outstanding service by the officers.

The police commission had contacted the Detroit Police Department, who agreed to a leave of absence for Lt. Broom. He was paid $150 a month for his services.

The investigation itself began taking testimony on June 12, 1939. The first persons to testify were Superintendent Broom and Acting Chief Cook. Up to this point the committee was very vague during questioning and the reasons for the investigation. One member stated, “No specific charges are being made, the members are anxious to receive all information both commendatory and critical.”

The committee also asked members of the public to come forward if they had any information about the police department. The committee members did state their goal was to complete the investigation as soon as possible. The committee worked behind closed doors and its sessions were not open to the press or public.

Upon conclusion of their investigation, the committee members cleared the department and its officers of any charges. They concluded, “The Ann Arbor Police force is sound and recent developments in respect to the department should materially increase it's effectiveness.” These recent developments were the appointment of Superintendent Broom and the changes he would eventually propose.

The report was not completely complimentary as it stated, “The department has suffered from a serious lack of training and from failure to keep up with modern practice standards in police work. For many years the persons responsible for police administration appear to have acquiesced in the old opinion that brawn is more important than brain and that neither education nor training are necessary for effective police work. Neither new men, nor those of long service, were sent to police schools nor given proper education in police work.” Interesting comments for 1939.

What else was interesting about the report was the conclusion that “certain types of gambling have not been held in check in the city as efficiently as might be done.” The gambling problems in the city and the department's inaction to address them would cost Chief Sherman Mortenson and Detective Lt. Eugene Gehringer their jobs in 1946. The committee did find that “inefficiency in respect to gambling results from a lack of interest and drive on the part of the administration, rather than from any corruption of the force.”

Rumors had circulated through the city that the investigation centered on police graft, although the final report clearly found that this was not the case. The committee did question the wisdom of the police commission allowing Chief Fohey to continue as chief through his illness. They suggested the commission officially retire him, so the department could progress, although they found that Chief Fohey had been an able chief before his illness. The committee also found that “morale” in the department was low, a problem that seems to always be present for most police departments.