Never Ready for Reform Part 8/X

In 1932, the Chicago Crime Commission praised Chicago’s police department for beginning to make

“smaller, routine adjustments and changes which cumulatively are of major importance, although singly of minor significance.” (quoted in Chicago Tribune, 11.27.1932 p. 9).

For nearly two decades after that, although there were complaints about police abuse and torture, the Crime Commission did not seriously investigate Chicago’s police department. That ended in May 1950, when a Crime Commission report on the East Chicago avenue police station charged that officers working out of that station took bribes in 1948 to allow honky tonks to operate off hours in the district.

The Crime Commission report led to a grand jury investigation into charges of police corruption. But when the grand jury tried to call the commission’s investigators, the agents refused to testify.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Walter Devereux, the commission’s chief investigator admitted that his agents had no physical evidence to support their claims and probably could not identify the people they claimed were involved in the bribes (Chicago Tribune, 5/19/1950, p. 1). The mayor of Chicago, Martin Kennelly, and the chief of police, John Pendergast, defended the department and so, while the grand jury recommended that a special grand jury be called to investigate the problem of police corruption, the matter was dropped. To counteract the bad publicity from the report, the police department assigned a squad of undercover officers to monitor the honky tonks.

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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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