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The LAPD: 1926-1950
When James E. Davis became Chief in 1926, he formed a 50-man "gun squad" announcing that "the gun-toting element and the rum smugglers are going to learn that murder and gun-toting are most inimical to their best interest." He added that he would "hold court on gunmen in the Los Angeles streets; I want them brought in dead, not alive and will reprimand any officer who shows the least mercy to a criminal."
In addition to stressing marksmanship, Davis sought successfully to make LAPD officers known worldwide as firearm experts. He initiated the dragnet system for tracking down wanted criminals, stressed the value of statistics for determining crime trends, and fired more than 240 officers for "bad conduct."
Davis' successor, Chief Roy E. Steckel, implemented the Department's first air patrol in 1931, assigning 10 officers to a fixed wing squadron. But public confidence in the Department left much to be desired. In an effort to restore trust, Mayor John C. Porter (1929-1933) hired a former LAPD detective to maintain surveillance over the Department, assisted by private investigators who soon acquired the name of "super snoopers." They were equipped with police Captain badges and ordered to spy on the high City officials. They functioned for three years before the City Council dispensed with their services.
A highlight of Chief Steckel's term occurred in 1931 with the implementation of what was called "the most modern municipal police radio system in the world." Officers using the call letters KGPL manned eight City Hall switchboards. The transmitter was located in Elysian Park. Citizen calls were broadcast to officers in 44 patrol cars with two-way conversation perfected in 1938. Police response anywhere in the City could be effected in less than three minutes.
A breath of fresh air flowed through the City and the Department in 1932 with the coming of the Summer Games of the 10th Olympiad, giving officers and the public alike a welcomed respite from strife and the agonies of the Depression. Olympic Police Headquarters was located at the new Coliseum and, under Chief Steckel, 800 sworn personnel, including three deputy chiefs, assumed law and order responsibilities. Throughout the Games, crimes were held to two robberies, eight burglaries, 39 thefts, and 10 auto thefts. No homicides occurred and traffic accidents were limited to 30.
With his return to office in 1933, Chief James E. Davis deployed a "Red Squad" to "investigate and control radical activities, strikes, and riots." By today's standards, the Squad's tactics were intolerable, but its members had the blessing of government officials and the business community. In referring to individuals deemed subversive, one Police Commissioner voiced his views by declaring: "The more the police beat them up and wreck their headquarters, the better. Communists have no Constitutional rights and I won't listen to anyone who defends them."
During the days of the Depression, state law closed all California borders to anyone lacking identifiable means of support in order to curb the arrival of impoverished persons. The Department responded by assigning 126 officers to border patrol duties. The blockade lasted for two months. Officers operating two picket boats assumed patrol of the Los Angeles harbor. The Harbor Department later assumed these duties.
Corruption throughout local government reached new depths during the term of Mayor Frank L. Shaw whose brother, Joe, wielded self-imposed authority over the Police and Fire Departments. Mayor Shaw was ousted from office in a 1938 recall.
Mayor Bowron wielded the most effective blow against graft and patronage. Following his 1938 election, he forced the retirement of dozens of City Commissioners including those to whom the Department reluctantly was responsible. Their replacements were swift to carry out the Mayor's determination for clean government. The failure of 45 high-ranking officers to correct the questionable practices resulted in their summary resignations. The Los Angeles Police Department never again has tolerated corruptive influences.
Arthur C. Hohmann became Chief in 1939. He devoted his two years in office to modernizing the organization of the Department, finding time to produce its present badge and denying the City Council the privilege of using police sirens.
When World War II arrived, manpower was seriously depleted due to the draft and enlistments. Many officers lived at the Academy with recruits housed in the gymnasium. They were allowed to leave the grounds on weekends only. Training was cut from three months to six weeks. Footbeats were deployed in Harbor Division to watch for enemy submarines and signs of an invasion. In 1943, when fights broke out between sailors and Mexican-Americans, four days of strife in the east-central part of the City became known as "the Zoot Suit Riots." ("Zoot Suit" came from the type of outfit worn by some East Los Angelenos who had formed into gangs. For the hostile sailors, the outfit was synonymous with "gangster.") Police intervention did little to reduce hundreds of injuries.