Baltimore City Police Vice Squad
Courtesy Officer Mel Howell
LAWSON PLANS SPECIAL SQUAD TO BATTLE VICE
Newspaper reports of the Times; 5 July, 1938
Lawson will name his new group this week to attack prostitution, and gambling
20 members of forceful face medical tests on fitness for duty
A special cleanup squad of police whose sole duty will be to ferret out vice and gambling in all forms will be appointed this week by police Commissioner William P Lawson.
The Commissioner announced this yesterday [4 July, 1938], and at the same time disclosed that about 20 members of the department will appear shortly before medical examiners to determine their fitness to continue on duty.
The Commissioner statement came 24 hours after Jay. Bernard Wells, states attorney, had made public a report showing that vice is widespread in this city, and which indicated a close association between vice activities and some members of the Police Department.
There was no definite evidence of police protection of vice was obtained, however, by the investigators who compiled the report for the American social hygiene Association. Copies of the report, which was made for a citizen committee headed by Dr. J. M. T. Finney, Senior, were given to Commissioner Lawson and Mr. Wells on Friday.
Dr. Finney last night said he was delighted to hear that Commissioner Lawson had decided to set up a cleanup squad
“But the citizens committee are not reformers.” Dr. Finney said
“They are an interested group of citizens trying to cooperate with the police to make Baltimore a better place to live in. We are not after anybody’s scalp. A report was made in that report was submitted to the proper authorities.”
Commissioner Lawson declined to say how large the new cleanup squad would be or how it would be recruited. He explained it would be under his direct supervision, and that the personnel would include some of the most efficient men in the department. The squad, he added, would be on duty 24 hours a day.
Moreover, Commissioner Lawson insisted that the medical examinations should not be interrupted as a general shakeup in the department. Such examinations, he said, are held, periodically. Any vacancies caused by those examinations must be filled, he added, and this may cause some changes in assignments.
Commissioner Lawson disclosed that he is carefully studying the report submitted by the Finney committee. Although the copy of the report released by Mr. Wells abbreviated names and locations, the copies given to Mr. Wells, and Commissioner Lawson were accompanied by a key.
This key gave the full names of nightclub, tavern, grill and saloon proprietors investigated; the names of their employees; what the employees earn in salaries and commissions; what many waitresses earn by “sitting” and soliciting; the names of prostitutes, their ages, addresses and other details about them, including places a visit; taxicab drivers names, Numbers and their interests in certain parts of the vice racket; perverts and where they practice; the names and addresses of hotels and apartments were prostitutes and perverts live or went temporary quarters, and many other details.
Commissioner Lawson’s announcement was a surprise to executive officers of the police department. No mention of the creation of such a squad, it was said, was made by the Commissioner when he conferenced yesterday morning with the inspectors and captains at police headquarters.
The move has been urged lately on several occasions by representatives of the criminal justice commission and others.
THE VICE REPORT
Newspaper reports of the Times; Jul 5, 1938;
Judging by the published summary of the vice report prepared at the behest of a committee of citizens, the most disturbing feature of the whole business is the hint, repeated constantly, that open prostitution is possible in Baltimore because the police themselves “protect” it.
Prostitution is an evil that has existed in all communities. No effort to eradicate it has ever been successful. None of the laws passed against it, some harsh and inhumane, some wiser and more intelligently framed, has ever more than temporarily driven it to cover. In all probability, the most that can be hoped for is to keep it in reasonable bounds and to prevent it from flaunting itself to the shame of honest men and women.
But even this most modest result cannot be attained if there is any sort of alliance between prostitution and its beneficiaries on one hand and the police force on the other. That such alliance do tend to grow up we know by recent experience. That the existence of the alliance breaks down the morale of the force is self-evident. That a lowered morale in the force, is in invitation to gangsters, and racketeers, to practice their trade is proved by recent outbreak in Baltimore of bombings and other violent crimes.
Baltimore’s problem at the present time arises out of the fact that it’s police force is headed by a man is clearly unfit for his job. An invasive, ambiguous man, willing to leave the public in general doubt as to his connection with the whiskey business, cannot by any means persuade either the people of the city or the policeman serving under him that he knows how to attack his problem and how to solve it.
For this particular point of view, the vice report may serve a good purpose. Mr. Wells, the State’s Attorney, who made the decision which resulted in the publication of the report, will doubtless lay its findings before the grand jury. Indeed, considering its implication, he could hardly do less. If Commissioner Lawson himself cannot see how important it is for Baltimore city to have the police commissioner who has the confidence of the police and of the community, then perhaps the jury, using this report as a basis, may be able to make the point clearer to him.
One thing is certain; the people of Baltimore will not long indoor a condition which is so ominous as to have brought some of our reputable citizens to believe that the police force, far from being engaged in an active war against vice and crime, is actually in partnership with these evils.
NEW VICE SQUAD ACTS SWIFTLY; MAKES 2 RAIDS
Newspaper reports of the Times; Jul 6, 1938; pg. 20
Itzel strikes 12 hours after appointment and Arrests Three Grand Jury here’s Finney, who had a group sponsoring inquiry the Police Department and the grand jury yesterday swung action on the recently revised vice report.
Less than 12 hours after Commissioner William Lawson, had named the new vice squad the squad made two raids and three arrests.
Capt. Joseph H. Itzel, temporarily detached from command of the central district, sent his hand-picked squad of seven men to do places during the evening, and disorderly house charges resulted in each instance.
The Grand Jury, in the meantime, interrupted its inquiry into the Whitelock Street bombing case the year Dr. Finney, Senior, chairman of the citizens committee responsible for the vice investigation.
Caring to bulky envelopes, Dr. Finney went before the jury and emerge 15 minutes later without the papers. One package was said to contain an all-important “key” to the names of persons figuring in the vice report.
The cases of law violations described by investigators for the American social hygiene society, which conducted the vice survey, identified persons only by initials, and it is said that their true identity is contained in this “key.”
The vice situation was called to the attention of the jury by Jay. Bernard Wells, states attorney. After Dr. Finney had been before the body, Mr. Wells carried into the chamber a copy of the report.
In the first grade last night missed Jeanette Allen, 37 was taken in the custody in a house in the first block of E. Biddle St. Patrolman and Owen Smallwood gained admission to the apartment and shortly advised the woman she was under arrest.
Then, he said, she resisted him and called a large dog. After a scuffle with both the woman and the dog, Smallwood reported, he admitted to the other policeman.
The dog also was taken to the central police station.
In the second grade, patrolman Henry Seybold, a rookie policeman, went to the second floor of the house in the 800 block of Utah Street and told the woman she was under arrest and admitted the other patrolman.
Miss Louise B. Cole, 34, and Wilbert Smith, 65, were docketed at the police station on charges of conducting a disorderly house.
The bombing inquiry was resumed last night, at the first night session of the grand jury since the 1937 investigation into vice conditions, Julius [blanky] Fink is held in $10,000 bail on charges arising from the bombing.
The jurors met at 6:30 PM and interrogated about a dozen witnesses in the bombing case until a few minutes before 11 o’clock.
It was reported last night that routine matters would be discussed before the last of the witnesses in the bombing case was heard today. There was little likelihood, it was said, that the jurors would call witnesses in connection with the vice report, although it was thought that they would continue their joint study of it for part of the day.
Mr. Lawson’s actions in naming a vice squad to work out of his office coincided with his decision to call before the board of police physicians and surgeons 17 policemen who are over the age of 70.
The officers will be examined for their fitness to continue on active duty. The move was said at police headquarters to be the first of several contemplated by the Commissioner, all looking toward the greater efficiency of the department.
In Capt. Itzel’s absence the central district will be commanded by three lieutenants, James Kane, Michael McKew, and Albert Hanssen.
Capt. Itzel revealed yesterday that he might enlist the aid of the public service commission and the liquor license board in his activities, the first to revoke licenses of taxicab drivers involved in vice and the second to do the same in the case of tavern owners.
The liquor license board will meet at 11 AM today, it was learned last night, for a thorough discussion of the entire tavern situation.
Dr. John J. McGinity, chairman, and his colleagues, Louise well field and Harry Lay Duer, will study a report on the raid conducted Saturday night by central district police, it was said.
VICE -SQUAD HISTORY
Newspaper reports of the Times; Jul 6, 1938
Baltimore is to have a vice squad a certain number of policemen will be told off to check up on reports about prostitution and gambling, keep the Commissioner informed as to the activities of those engaged in these pursuits and, when possible, to make court cases against them.
The project has an engaging sound, and, if it were new and untried, it might be possible to await the outcome was some hope. But the vice squad idea is not new. As a matter of fact the appointment of such a squad is almost a regular step in police departments in the process of demoralization.
The used to have a vice squad in Chicago in the days of big rackets. Public opinion finally forced its abandonment. They had a vice squad in New York for years. What investigation finally showed was that the vice squad was an integral part of the vice racket. The police were working not for the public for the racketeers. Like the pimps and procurers, they were supposed to track down the lived off the women of the streets. Lucky Luciano, the head of the vice ring in New York, never showed up in the record as a cool or callous or sadistic as some of the policemen on the vice squad.
The reason for this development is not hard to seek. Your ordinary policeman is very much like your ordinary citizen in other walks of life. He knows that vice prostitution exists and he has little hope that they can ever be eradicated. His duty as an officer of the law makes it a comment upon him, however, to see that they are kept in balance, and usually, when the morale of the Police Department is good, he is willing to do is bit toward that end. On the whole, he would rather be catching burglars were tripping up pickpockets. The idea of spending his life spying on starlet women is repulsive to him. Given his choice he would almost certainly decline the assignment.
But in police departments, as in other departments of life, some men do enjoy pursuing women, and all too often these men, because of the reluctance of their betters, tend to get the vice squad appointments. That is what happened in Chicago; it is what happened in New York.
It may be that Baltimore is going to be luckier than these cities. It may be that the original squad will do its distasteful work that it will never be possible to level against it the charge that it is persecuting its victims and getting some sort of perverse pleasure out of hounding them about when they don’t pay up. But that outcome is not likely. In all probability but we are seeing is the usual recourse of a politically minded police Commissioner anxious to silence a public outcry.
The vice squad idea is an exploded idea. A way to get good policing, which means not only keeping vice within bounds but also the suppression of rackets and the prevention of major crimes - is to raise the morale of the whole department. Men who take pride in their work and who have a wholesome respect for their commander the new vice squad’s to do their work for them.
Tavern Blast Feared Sign of Racket Raid
Newspaper reports of the Times; Jun 14, 1938; pg. 22
Bombing is regarded as effort to extract tribute from operator
Magistrate old suspect on the urgent plea by officers
Bob terrorism, similar to that used by big-time racketeers in other cities, apparently as invaded Baltimore, it was feared last night by police.
One of the strongest theories on which police were working yesterday was that at least one of the two bombs which exploded over the weekend was heavy property damage into widely separate sections of the city was used in an effort to force a tavern keeper to pay tribute.
Such a method was well known in the pre-repeal days of Chicago were business firms, reluctant to pay slices of profits to gangsters, were bombed into submission. Such a method, with accompanying gunplay, was well known in New York and was the main strong-armed persuasion used in the Rackets exposed by the present district attorney, Thomas Dewey
That such methods would be attempted in this city has been predicted several times by those conversant with criminal trends. Just how deep the racketeer intrusion has penetrated in the city, the police don’t know, but they are inclined to view the present situation with concern.
There have been other bombings in Baltimore-six since 1907. No one ever was convicted for placing them. Of the six, two bombs were aimed at the homes of incumbent Mayor’s Broening, in 1927, and Jackson two years ago in 1936. Another bomb exploded at the city’s sewage pumping station at East Falls and Eastern Avenues. The remaining bombing cases apparently were the result of individual hatred. No reasons ever were assigned to the bombings of the mayors homes.
More Than Revenge
In each of the previous instances to early Sunday morning, there was nothing to lead police to attribute the bombings to organize crime. The bombing of the Whitelock Street and Druid Hill Avenue tavern, on the other hand, had earmarks of more than individual revenge.
After hearing yesterday afternoon in the Northern Police Court, Julius Fink, 42, of the 400 block of Andrus Street, was held by magistrate Harry Allers, for a further hearing Thursday morning on a charge of “assault with intent to murder one William Adams, by placing a bomb on premises at 2340 Druid Hill Avenue…”
Police were so much concerned about the bombing that they asked for an extension of time in which to follow up several angles. Think was held at the northern police station instead of being sent to City Jail, as is the usual practice in similar cases. Police would not comment on rumors that there was fear of possible attack if the prisoner were sent to jail.
Testimony giving at the here was so meager that magistrate Allers had to request additional information. Detective Lieut. William Feehly, one of the police assigned to the case, inform the magistrate that the case might be injured if extensive testimony were given.
Counsel for Fink C. Morton Goldstein. Associate judge of the people’s court and all associate of Harry O. Levin, chairman of the state tax commission, told the magistrate that his client would deny any connection with the bombing. Lieut. Feehly informed the magistrate that there was a possibility of connection between the Tavern bombing and the one in the 300 block of wood your street. Magistrate Allers was asked, despite the reluctance of the police to testify, to hold Fink.
“We have reason to believe that the same people did both jobs and we need a postponement of the case in order to further investigate the job on wood your street.” Lieut. Feehly said. “This man’s freedom will jeopardize our investigation, we believe.”
Held At Police Station
Magistrate Allers then ordered Fink held, not jail, but in northern district police station.
Meanwhile, city officials entered the probe, at least by recognizing its importance. Mayor Jackson conferred with Commissioner Lawson. One result was an order by the Commissioner that every available man be placed on the case under supervision of chief inspector Stephen G. Nelson.
J. Bernard Wells states attorney, as far as any official action was concerned left the matter in the hands of the police.
Fink was arrested by Sgt. Wilbur Martindale and patrolman Edgar F. Wilson as a result of what they called a “lucky break.” A short time before the Tavern bombing, the two were cruising in that vicinity when they saw an automobile, without lights, pulled away from the curb and drive past the Boulevard stop sign.
The officers gave Chase, caught the car and gave the driver traffic ticket. It was not long before the bomb exploded. After the explosion, the officers recalled the action of the driver and went to his home. They said the driver was Fink.
Damage done by the Tavern bomb was much more extensive than that wrought on Woodyear street. In the latter section, numerous windows were shattered, metal slugs were driven through shutters, ceilings, and floors, but the effect was scattered along both sides of the street and was spread over a wide area.
The Tavern, [Druid Hill Ave. and Whitelock St.] however, took the brunt of the second bombing. Placed by a side door, the bomb tore it from its hinges and shattered the sill, the brick frame, and the stone doorstep. The interior of the Tavern was also extensively damaged by flying the breeze and metal slugs.
Photo courtesy Patrick J Byrne
He was promoted 6 Sept, 1951 to be the field commander and to lead gambling raids
Strip-Tease Act Lands Dancer In Police Court
It was just a "run-of-the-mine strip-tease act," according to Defense Attorney Joseph F. DiDomenico.
But to a policewoman and four policemen it was something more than that--enough, in fact, to justify a charge of presenting an indecent show against Mrs. Carmen Benton, thirty-three, Mrs. Benton, who lives in the 700 block Reservoir street, was arraigned Wednesday before Magistrate William F. Laukaitis in Central Police Court. She let Attorney DiDomenico do the talking for her.THE VARIOUS policemen did some talking too. Patrolman George Fink of the police vice squad testified that Policewoman Miss Betty Riha and Patrolman Kenneth Runge dropped in at a cabaret In the 600 block East Baltimore street Tuesday night and were much intrigued by a dance presented by Mrs. Benton. They were so interested, in fact, that after seeing only part of the show they phoned for Patrolmen Fink, John Livesey and Melvin Howell to join them. The three vice squad men lost no time in hurrying over from headquarters.AFTER THE dance, Mrs. Benton was arrested, and Mrs. Catherine Darrell, forty-six, one of the proprietors of the club, also was charged with permitting an indecent show to be presented. There was some testimony about a brassiere Mrs. Benton wore or didn't wear, but Defense Attorney DiDomenico denied it had been removed. Magistrate Laukaitis postponed the case until Saturday morning to permit the defendants to produce witnesses who would say Mrs. Benton's dance wasn't indecent----that it was just of run-of- the-mine strip act, as Mr. DiDomenico.
VICE SQUAD RAID TRAPS NINE IN NET
4 Charged With Gambling, 5 With Disorderly Conduct
Nine men were arrested yesterday morning in a vice squad raid in the 600 block West North Avenue. Police, led by Lieutenant Joseph Byrne, took them to the Northern station where four were charged with gambling and the others were charged with disorderly conduct. Gambling charges were placed against Isadore Miller, of the 5400 block Price Avenue; Jack P. Rosen, of the 4200 block Graceland Avenue; Charles F. Vopalecky, of the 1200 block West North Avenue, and Isadore Abrams, of the 600 blocks West North Avenue. Police Ask Postponement Charged with disorderly conduct were Frank G. Gaston, of the 1800 block Eutaw place; Emanuel Smith, of the 2400 Block Linden Avenue; Joseph Lewis, of the 2000 Block Bolton street; Henry Schwartz, of the 2900 Block Freeway, and Louis Jonas, of the 600 block West North Avenue. Police asked for a postponement of the hearing because they wanted some of the paraphernalia seized in the raid examined at the Crime Laboratory.
3 ARE ARRESTED IN BOOKIE RAID
Vice Squad Team Breaks Up Operation At Tavern
An eleven-man team broke up a bookmaking operation yesterday afternoon at a tavern in the 1200 block William street and arrested the tavern owner, a bartender and, a third man. Sergeant Arthur McGee said it was a “right good-sized operation." Paraphernalia seized as evidence included a list of bets tossed from a second-story window. Some of the bets ran as high as $80, Sergeant McGee reported. The vice squad had had the place under surveillance several days. When Patrolman Philip Farace reported he had seen bets placed and heard talk of horses as he mingled with patrons at the bar, Sergeant William Hogan obtained a search warrant. Raid .time was 3:50 P.M. Three vice squad members, Sergeant Hyman Goldstein and Patrolmen George Fink and John Huemmer, took stations at the three entrances to the building. Patrolmen Robert Byrne, Charles Richter, and Edgar Kirby entered and posed as customers. Five minutes later Lieutenant Joseph Byrne, Sergeant McGee, 'Sergeant Hogan, Patrolman Farace and Patrolman Melvin Howell walked in, went to the back of the tavern and, with a crowbar, forced a door leading upstairs. They got no answer when they banged on a second-floor door, and Sergeant Hogan sprung the lock with a firm kick. Inside they saw a man run to a window and throw a wad of paper through it. Outside, Sergeant Goldstein picked the paper up. From the desk at which the man had been sitting by a telephone, Sergeant McGee recovered a payoff sheet, a scratch sheet, and other bookmaking paraphernalia. Charged with bookmaking after the raid were Anthony Lindung, 43, owner of the tavern, who was arrested at his home; Edward Reitz, 50, of the 800 block Woodward Street, and Charles L. Eid, 44, bartender, of the 5700 Block Second Avenue. Each was released in $2,500 bail pending a hearing this morning in Southern Police Court.
Photo courtesy Detective Melvin Howell
Al Scarface Capone's visit to Baltimore
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