Never Ready for Reform, Part 1/X

Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet.

Mathias Paddy Bauer (1890-1977)

That quote from former 43rd Ward Alderman Bauer, is a famous indictment of Chicago’s political system. But it applies equally well to the Chicago Police Department, which has been the subject of repeated reform efforts over its history.

Those efforts began well before the start of the twentieth century. In 1898, after an investigation into the Chicago police department, the Illinois state senate issued a report that recommended major reforms. In calling on the senate to do a report, the governor of Illinois, John Riley Tanner, called attention to the problem of political interference in policing in the city. Chicago, he wrote:

presents the only instance of a police for used as an instrument for the sole benefit of the political party which happens to be in power after each election.

The Senate report echoed his concern about the degree to which politics corrupted policing in Chicago. But while the report’s focus was the department’s failure to control gambling in the city, it also called attention to the department’s reckless and violent culture. After quoting at length from the testimony of Chicago police chief Joseph Kipley, the committee observed:

We can hardly conceive in this day of enlightened sentiment, of a man selected as chief of police in the second greatest city in the United States, when speaking of a police officer who, while under the influence of liquor, with his revolver in one hand, and his club in the other, assaults a citizen and takes from him his money on the public street, refers to it as being an act of indiscretion, and apologizes for him in every possible way.

The report concluded with the demand that Chicago’s police department be reformed and recommended that it be separated from political control.

That demand had no impact. Instead, it had to be repeated, over and over again, in the twentieth century.

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Writer. Formerly civil rights attorney. Currently professor. Working on new book about mental disability and criminal law in the 20th century.

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