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Lewis W. Harthill
Address by former chief of police of
It is generally believed by the public that a police department is a brutal institution, that its only function is to apply the iron hand of the law, to arrest and convict those who may have violated the law or committed crime. To be sure that is one of its functions, but to me its most important work is the prevention of crime, and through prevention the protection of the public.
Before discussing with you vice, crime and its causes, I wish to call to your attention two or three facts that might aid you in following this argument. First, that in the United States today we are spending almost as much money for law enforcement, such as for police departments, sheriff's offices, courts, and penal institutions, as we are spending for public school education, and every year we are increasing the police, grinding our courts over time, adding to and building new penal institutions, and filling them to their capacity. Second, that almost 80 per cent of the people handled by the police are not criminal or vicious of heart, but victims of circumstances often extenuating or of hostile economic conditions. Third, that the attitude of the police and the methods used by them toward juveniles oftentimes determine whether in the future the boys and girls become habitual criminals.
Bearing these facts in mind, I want to discuss with you not so much the handling of criminals, which is the biggest problem of the police, but the work of the police department as a public safety department. Understanding the human animal, in particular his mental reactions, is important. The science of psychology has changed, and we find now obsolete all the methods used by the police departments in years gone by.
A review of past history teaches us that vice and crime have not been minimized, but that our problems are becoming more intensified and complicated. In the past, public law enforcement bodies and penal institutions have shown a desire to punish, thereby making the inmates of penal institutions bitter because most of them believe that they have been over-punished, sending them back to society with a grudge and a keen desire to retaliate too often. We have measured the efficiency of law enforcement bodies very largely by the number of arrests they have made, and not by the amount of education that they have given.
In taking charge of the Minneapolis police department I was not a so-called "copper," but a layman superintendent chosen to guide the activities of the police force. I believed that closing the channels that feed white slavery, prostitution and crime was far more important than applying the iron hand of the law and apprehending those who had merely committed crime, and I immediately started a campaign of education in our public schools, parent and teachers' associations and high society, for the prevention of crime. I started this campaign after handling some of the most notorious and vicious criminals known to the police departments throughout the United States.
It is not a complex problem to handle a habitual criminal, because the most severe punishment can be resorted to. Those who have no regard for human life and property can be punished without any injustice to the criminal himself. But to handle the 80 per cent who need help far more than they need punishment, and especially the juvenile who needs advice, help and sympathy was what puzzled me, and every other police officer, and led me to this campaign of education. I placed the responsibility of the 80 per cent of preventable crime and vice on the shoulders of society. Environment determines the destiny of most of us. To punish a girl for having made a mistake when she finds her wages and working conditions are such as not to permit her to live within a semblance of common decency, is a social crime. To punish the juvenile whose parents because of poor wages and long hours are prevented from giving the child ordinary opportunities, is a crime. In other words, to me the greatest crime that is being committed is the crime of punishing those who have violated the law under conditions that society is responsible for.
The campaign I carried on for the prevention of crime, and the minimizing of vice through closing the channels that feed the crime mills, was merely a campaign of placing upon the shoulders of society responsibilities for which it is rightly responsible. This may seem to you a unique position for the chief of police of a city of nearly half a million to take, but iron-bound convention and hoary tradition mean little to me. I believed frank admission of real causes sooner or later had to be made and the sooner the admission was made the sooner the results.
I made probably the most exhaustive study of vice and crime that was made by any police head in the United States, at least I was given that credit by the largest police papers in the world. The study was merely a personal observation of human wreckage, good, bad and indifferent. All of them, every mother's son and every mother's daughter, was a challenge to my theory. In one year, of the hundreds of girls handled by the police under my administration, I turned five hundred and nine back to their parents without even placing a scratch of the pen against them, all of them guilty of some minor offense. I took the position that the parents after all, were by far the best custodians and that they needed help more than they needed punishment. My attitude was this: Out of the five hundred and nine, if only one little girl proved herself worthy, I would rather let five hundred and eight who were undeserving go scot free than to punish one little girl who was deserving. But I found that nearly every one of them did her best to make good and tried to prove her worthiness.
Prostitution is not a police problem, it is a problem of society. Arresting of scarlet women has never minimized vice, merely complicated it. To teach the growing girl the dangers and the price she pays for such a life does minimize, does save and tend toward making cleaner, more wholesome communities.
Probably one of the most heart-rending investigations I made was the investigation and study of drug addicts. I handled personally over six hundred drug fiends, sat in the cells with ninety-two of them at different times, from four to six hours, in order to observe the effect of the drug as it wore off. I have seen these boys and men suffer all the tortures and agonies of Hell. I have seen them lie on the floor of the cell, rolling backward and forward begging me for a piece of sugar, a lemon or an orange, for they do not feed their system any nourishing food, and the result is that they have no resisting powers. I have seen them double up their fists, stick out their thumbs and drive their thumb nails into their stomach until it bled, trying to ease the pain and gnawing of that vicious drug as it took its pay. in after-effects. I have seen drug victims who have been dragged down to the very dregs of society, physical wrecks, and all hope lost, and I have thought, "What satisfaction is there in punishing poor unfortunates of this character?” They were here and had to be contended with, but how about the hundreds of thousands that were being made every day, boys and girls from the ages of twelve years up, being cursed by society, and nothing done to help them.
My investigation took me down through almost every known vice and crime, and I wondered whether our law enforcement bodies, courts and penal institutions were really functioning. Were they really helping the great mass of humanity, who, after all was said and done, were God's people?
And that is why I am talking to you today. It is your problem. If, as chief of police of the City of Minneapolis, all I had to do was to handle vicious criminals, and apply the iron hand of the law, it would have been simple and easy, but if I conceived as my job the making of an educational institution, an institution for the prevention of crime, then the problem was big.
In conclusion, I merely want to say this, that regardless of the attitude and methods used by the police in the past, and I say that because the methods and practices used by the police determine the destiny of almost every youth that is brought within their clutches, the time has come when common sense and humane methods have got to be used by these institutions. They can and will be changed only by demand on the part of the public. I am asking that our public schools, which are the educators of our youth, start immediately a course of study, first, to teach the child respect for law, to teach him that law is not made to punish people, but is made to help people. Law merely draws a line to show where we encroach upon the life of others. No child would destroy an American flag and he does not refrain because there is punishment attached to the act. He refrains because he has been taught a loyalty to the flag. Second, children also should be taught in school that there is no profit in crime. All criminals eventually are caught. The process sometimes may seem long, but eventually they are caught, and they pay. The price for committing crime or leading a life of crime is absolutely immeasurable. You may measure the price paid merely by the number of years served in a penal institution, but who can measure the heartaches of the mother, the disgrace brought upon the family, the loss of confidence of friends, and the destruction of entire futures.
While chief of police I have had boys boast to me of having gone to jail, but I never had a boy boast to me of having caused his mother heartache or bringing disgrace upon his family. If properly taught, the boy will refrain from committing crime more on account of the heartaches of his mother and the disgrace brought upon his family, than on account of the penalty attached by law. I am urging and appealing to the public and to society to assume its share of responsibility in bringing about cleaner and more wholesome communities through education, or through the abandonment of the iron hand.
May I just call your attention to a little story in the Bible —the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where the Lord confided in Abraham that he was going to destroy these two cities on account of their wickedness. Abraham being a Jew argued with the Lord and said, “Lord, if there are only one hundred good, will you save the city?" and the Lord said, "If there are one hundred good I will not destroy them." Abraham Jewed the Lord down to ten and he said, "Lord, if there are only ten, will you save the city?” And the Lord said, “If there are only ten good I will not destroy it.” But there were only five. The Lord saved the five and destroyed the city. To me, the Lord tried to convey the teaching that if there is any good in anyone he is worth saving.