2. The 1930's

The 1930's began with Chief Thomas O'Brien leading the department. Chief O'Brien would serve as chief for over 17 years, making him the longest serving chief in the department's history.

Chief O' Brien was a very well liked chief both within the department and the community. He started with the department in 1907 and was one of six officers before being promoted to sergeant and then chief in 1916. He had previously worked for the fire department before becoming a police officer.

Chief O'Brien died suddenly of a stroke at his home at 808 Lawrence, on July 2, 1933. He was survived by his wife Agnes, sons John, Robert and Russell. Chief O'Brien was born on July 29, 1876.

The city was saddened by his unexpected death. George Lutz of the police commission stated, “I have known the chief for a good many years, both as a friend and through association as a member of the council and on the police commission. He was always faithful to his duties and conducted his office quietly and modestly. The city has lost an outstanding official and citizen.”

Mayor Robert Campbell stated, “I had been a close friend of Chief O'Brien for many years and always had been proud of him as our police chief. The citizens of Ann Arbor have lost a trusted friend and loyal officer.” There was a large turnout for the chief's funeral and he was buried at St. Patricks cemetery in Northfield Township.

Interestingly enough, Chief O'Brien's grandson still lives in the family house at 808 Lawrence Street. The home has been in the family since 1926, when it was purchased by Chief O'Brien.

After the death of Chief O'Brien, Sgt. Lewis Fohey was promoted to police chief at a wage of $2400 a year. Chief Fohey started with the police department in 1920, was promoted to sergeant in 1924 and then chief.

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Chief Fohey was in charge of the department until he became ill in May of 1939. He was not able to return to work and the city council granted him half his wage while he was off on sick leave. The police commission issued a resolution stating, “Whereas, it has appeared to this commission that Lewis Fohey, who has served this department faithfully, efficiently and loyally for many years, is now disabled because of sickness and should be granted a leave of absence from active service pending his recovery and whereas it is the desire of this commission to continue the employment of the said Lewis Fohey as chief of police,

“Therefore, be it resolved:

  1. That on account of sickness, Chief Fohey is given an indefinite leave of absence from active service, effective May 31, 1939, subject to call to active duty by this commission if he is found to have recovered his health or if his services are required because of an emergency.
  2. That during the period Lewis Fohey is on leave from this department, because of sickness as aforesaid, he shall after June 30, 1939, receive one-half his annual salary, or $1380 per year”

Chief Fohey died on July 20,1939 and the Acting Chief, Norman Cook, was appointed replace him by the police commission.

When Chief Fohey started with the department it consisted of thirteen officers and upon his death it had grown to 39 men.

A large funeral was held for Chief Fohey, which the entire department attended, as did most of the fire department. Chief Fohey was also buried in St. Patrick's cemetery in Northfield Township.

Chief Cook was officially promoted to chief on July 20, 1939. Chief Cook was hired by the police department in 1923. In the early years of Chief Cook's administration he was credited with a number of progressive actions. Only two patrol vehicles had two way radio communication and the department's only motorcycle could receive, but not transmit. Chief Cook administered the completion of the two way radio system.

The police department's firing pistol range was constructed during his administration with virtually no expenditures from the taxpayers. His biggest contribution was his attitude toward the university and it's students, as he worked to improve the relationship between the university and the police department.

Up to this point the student-police relationship was very strained. Chief Cook advised his officers that they “were never to display any ill-will toward the students.” Whenever an incident involved a student the officer was instructed “not to discriminate against them because they were a student.”

Dean of Students Joseph Bursley had the “fullest praise” for Chief Cook and the cooperation that the department had shown the students during the school year of 1938–39.

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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.

Department Changes

In 1939, the department underwent several changes as a result of the work done by Superintendent Broom and Chief Cook. One of these measures was a disciplinary board. This board was approved by the officers of the department and it was formed to hear citizens complaints against them. The board would impose penalties on officers if they were found guilty of an infraction of police rules. The board was comprised of the chief, two patrolmen elected by the officers and two sergeants. The committee would meet whenever there was a complaint against an officer. Chief Cook emphasized that officers were considered “innocent until guilt was proven” and that policing “is a science requiring intelligence and training.”

The board could impose penalties such as loss of leave days or vacation. The board could recommend dismissal or suspension, but only the police commission could order this type of discipline. The first case of discipline brought before the board was a complaint of an officer who parked his patrol car in a one hour parking spot. The vehicle was found parked over the legal time limit and the officer was forced to work his two leave days, without pay. The board said that officers are “an example for citizens and the officer was setting a bad example.”

Another part of the work done by Superintendent Broom was to improve training for new officers. Chief Cook agreed with his suggestion that new officers receive, “70 hours of concentrated instruction in every phase of police work.”

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There was no state law regulating or licensing police officers in the state at that time. Officers did not attend a police academy before their employment with the department. Many prospective officers were asked to join the police department by someone on the force. Future Chief Krasny was in the first recruit class that underwent this “extensive police training.” The only requirements were that an applicant had to be between 21 and 30 yrs, at least 5′9″ and a high school graduate.

It is hard to imagine that only 70 hours of instruction would enable one to become a police officer and one could see how far the police profession has come. New officers today receive well over 1000 hours of training before they are allowed to become sworn officers. It was quite common in this era for officers to shoot at fleeing suspects for minor offenses. Car chases usually always involved a shot or two being fired, which today is unheard of.

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One such case in 1939 involved a 17 year old who had stolen a car. He was arrested near Michigan Stadium and was being transported to the police station, when he opened the door and fled from the patrol car. He ran east on Huron to S. Division, where he was spotted in a backyard. Officers began firing their revolvers in the air, in an attempt to scare the youth, who was re-captured.

Another case involved Officers Iller and Ogilvy, on January 12, 1940, as they were pursuing a stolen car. At Washtenaw and Stadium the occupants lost control of the car and bailed out, running from the officers. They chased the suspects into a neighborhood and only could see “shadowy figures.” The officers began firing their weapons into the air and all three suspects were captured.

Officers were also quick to use their revolvers to shoot wayward animals. In one instance a citizen at 700 Pauline was bothered by owls that were hooting and keeping him up. A call was made to the police department and Officer Henry Murray was dispatched to the complaint. Officer Murray quickly found the offending owls and shot five of them that were perched in a near-by tree. I don't think this would endear the department to the citizens in our current era. Ducks and pigeons were frequently shot while the officers were working, as they would supplement their income by taking home the deceased animals for meals.

Officers were also asked to perform duties that would be unexpected of them today. One such duty was to paint the dividing lines in the roadway. They would use the motorcycle with the sidecar for this duty, as the officer in the sidecar would paint the dividing line, while the other drove.

During this era, it is amazing how police work was different from today, yet, in many ways it was very similar. The most similar events were the crimes themselves. Ann Arbor has always suffered a high amount of larcenies and parking complaints were a problem even then. A major concern was also traffic safety as traffic fatalities numbered about what they do today.

On July 7, 1939, Officer Herb Kapp saved a baby from becoming one such fatality. Officer Kapp was on motorcycle patrol in the 700 blk of N. Main, when he observed the baby crawling in the road. He raced up to the child and stopped traffic in both directions, saving the baby from being hit. Officer Kapp then returned the child to his parents at 718 N. Main.

A few days later Chief Cook received a letter from the mother of the child, praising Officer Kapp for his actions. The mother, Mrs. Louis Schneider, stated, “We might have lost our baby boy if it had not been for Officer Kapp's quick actions. The baby had climbed under the front gate on the porch and was heading right for the middle of Main St. He quickly stopped his motorcycle and proceeded to stop cars coming and going in both directions. With the cars at a standstill, the baby was out of danger. Again we want to thank Officer Kapp for his quick thinking and for saving our baby.”

U of M football Saturdays were also similar to today's games, requiring all Ann Arbors Officers to work. They were complimented by 35 Michigan State Troopers and 15 officers from the Jackson Police Department. Approximately 75,000 attended a typical football game, which resulted in 15,000 additional cars in the city, which taxed the small police force.

Even back in the thirties there was trouble before some of the games. Before the Michigan-Michigan State game in 1939, officers braced for a riot, due to riots which occurred during the last two meetings of the teams. These “riots” consisted of students battling with the police. The Ann Arbor News complimented the officers conduct during this game in 1939, stating, “Instead of looking for trouble on the basis of what had happened in previous years, the police operated on the theory that the students would behave themselves. It was noteworthy that the police brandished no weapons. Revolvers were out of sight beneath coats, and night sticks were left at the station. The police leaned over backwards to avoid anything that might have inflamed the crowd's emotions.”
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