The Police Hiring Scandal of 1897

As the Luetgert trial dominated headlines in 1897, the Chicago Police Department was embroiled in a controversy over the political nature of hiring and firing officers.

When Carter Harrison II, a Democrat, took office as mayor in 1896, he appointed Joseph Kipley the superintendent (chief) of police. Kipley (pictured) was the president of the Star League, a group of officers who had been dismissed under the previous Republican administration. These officers now expected to get their jobs back, in spite of a new state civil-service law that was supposed to prevent such political hiring.

After months of waiting, the deposed Democrat policemen finally saw Kipley taking action on their behalf in the summer of 1897. He took his first step in June, demoting or discharging officers who were perceived as being Republican, while promoting those loyal to him. The Chicago Tribune observed an ethnic pattern to Kipley's actions: "The discharged or reduced men, with hardly an exception, show by their names they are of American or English birth, while with as few exceptions, the officers put in their places are Irish."

Then, in July, Kipley allowed all of the dismissed police officers from the Star League to take examinations for reinstatement. If the Democratic policemen could pass the test, it gave Kipley a legal excuse for hiring them back. The Tribune reported that every one of the Democrats who took the test passed. The newspaper also criticized the chief's efforts to bring all of these men back onto the force. "While there are among the Star leaguers a number of good policemen who were discharged for political reasons, there are many others who were discharged for intoxication, conduct unbecoming police officers, disobedience of police rules, and wilful maltreatment of citizens," the newspaper noted.

Kipley showed up at roll-call at the detective headquarters at the Central Station and read the riot act to the men there, telling them they'd have to show themselves worthy of their jobs "or a cyclone would sweep over headquarters and carry all before it."

An old detective told the Tribune: "One thing the chief neglected to mention, was that he has transferred from headquarters to outlying stations nearly every old and time-tried policeman who knew the thieves and held them in check. In their places he has placed political favorites, men who know practically nothing about police business. The reign of crime has only just begun."

Despite the Tribune's claim that every Star Leaguer was passing the civil service exam, the test may not have been quite that easy for some of them. On October 1, noted journalist George Ade described the tests that prospective police officers were taking. In his "Stories of the Street and Town" column, published in the Chicago Record, Ade wrote:

It was known last spring that appointments were supposed to be regulated by a new civil-service law, operating under the direction of a commission, but all the politicians said that this law would be shelved in no time.

The applicants believed it. Dozens of them refused to take the examinations so as to be placed on the eligible list. They were advised by some of the city officials that they could get jobs without going through the examination mill. So they waited, and most of them are still waiting. The law may not have made a complete reformation in the service already, but it has stood as a barrier against the wholesale jobbing of salaried places by the machine bosses.

Many of the applicants determined to take the examinations. They went to outlying schoolhouses in droves and sat at child-sized desks and puttered over examination papers, just as they had done twenty years before, some of them. To others it was a new experience.

Imagine the practical "boy" of politics suddenly hauled into a room and compelled to answer such questions as the following:

Where is the city hall?
What railroads lead to Pullman?
Solve four-elevenths of six-nineteenths.
Name eight presidents of the United States.

Imagine would-be hauling inspectors, compelled to answer questions as to mechanics, construction, sanitary plumbing and the like! In short, imagine outsiders slipping in, through this pernicious system, and getting the jobs intended for the boys who had marched and shouted.

A few days later, the Civil Service Commission posted a list of 389 former police officers who had passed the exam. More than 300 were members of the Star League.

Kipley later asked the Civil Service Commission for a list of 435 experienced patrolmen to fill vacancies. "My idea is to have the 435 new men sworn in ready for active duty before the men marked for dismissal are dropped. In that way no inconvenience will result from the change," he said.

He issued General Order No. 32 on October 26, firing eight desk sergeants, two detective sergeants, two patrol sergeants and 393 patrolmen. He also forced three desk sergeants, one detective sergeant and twenty patrolmen to retire on pensions.

" 'Order No. 32' announced the decapitation to the victims," the Tribune reported. "It also brought joy to the hungry horde of Star leaguers, who have grown faint, tattered, and torn waiting to step into the shoes of Republican policemen. The order was one of the most remarkable ever issued by any Chief of Police and its effect will be marked."

When the list of those losing jobs was posted at noon, many of the fired officers quit on the spot, turning in their stars and sitting down in cigar stores or saloons ó watching as the traffic they had been directing a few minutes ago took care of itself.

The newly fired officers formed their own league, the Republican City League, but Mayor Harrison wasn't interested in hearing their pleas for jobs.

"I am simply carrying out my promises made during the campaign to correct the injustice done Democratic policemen by Republican administration," Mayor Harrison said. "Out of the 1,100 members of the Star league only 300 have been reinstated. Every man put back is an experienced officer with an excellent record. They are all good men and will make efficient police officers."

The officers fired by Kipley included almost every Swede, Norwegian and Dane on the police force, so Kipley soon faced protests from Chicago's Scandinavians. And not all of the Star Leaguers were happy with his actions ó after all, as many as 1,000 of them had not been rehired. And it wasn't just Republicans who were angry at Kipley. Chicago's Democratic aldermen were mad that he had fired some 200 Democratic police officers, and they demanded that he reinstate them.

"I donít see how on earth Iím going to get around reinstating those men," Kipley was reported to tell a friend. "I wonít any attention to the requests for the reinstatement of Republicans, no matter who makes them, but what am I to do when the strongest Democrats in this city, the best friends of the administration, threaten all sorts of vengeance if I donít reinstate the Democrats I discharged who had good records? The mayor says the police force must be reduced to fit the appropriation. That means the discharge of 100 more men. I guess I can find that many Republicans, and the civil-service commissioners will help get rid of a few more, some of the new appointees. If I have to reinstate 200 Democrats, what can I do for the 1,000 members of the Star league, who have been hounding me since the first hour I took office?"

"A policemanís lot is not a happy one," the chiefís friend replied.

Some of Kipley's personnel changes had to be revised. He had fired most of the men involved in the Luetgert investigation, but allowed them to continue serving ó at least until Luetgert's second trial was over. Some of the Star Leaguers who had bad records were fired again. And the city counsel determined that an old Chicago law prevented Kipley from moving the newly hired men into positions higher than patrolman.

In January 1898, Governor John R. Tanner and his Republican allies in Springfield forced a resolution through the GOP Senate caucus to send a committee to Chicago to investigate the police situation. The Republicans wanted to create a metropolitan police board that would ensure that the department was nonpartisan.

As the senators prepared to meet in Chicago, reports circulated that the police had issued an order to clean up the city by arresting gamblers. A reporter noticed that some of the saloons where book betting normally took place were unusually quiet on the even of the Senate hearings.

The city's Civil Service Commission refused to cooperate with the Senate investigation. Meeting on its own without help from the Senate, the commission announced it was firing sixty-nine of the Star League policemen Kipley had hired.

Before Kipley brought these men back onto the force, they had been dismissed for reasons including "neglect of duty and immoral conduct and conduct unbecoming an officer," "leaving his post while on duty, without permission," "intoxication," and "for entering a place where intoxicating drinks were sold."

Despite the lack of cooperation, the Senate panel went ahead with its investigation.

As an example of how hirings and firings in Chicago were political, the Senate committee cited the example of W.D. Darst, a professional cook who had worked at the Chicago House of Correction for many years. "His recommendations were of the highest character; he had taken the Civil Service examination and had passed satisfactorily."

In July 1897, a new superintendent took over the jail and replaced Darst with Louis Kadlitz, an ex-convict who had been fired by a previous superintendent for drunkenness and inattention to duty. Kadlitz, however, had a "prominent politician of the Tenth Ward" lobbying on his behalf.

When Darst asked why he was being let go, the superintendent told him, "You are simply given a good old-fashion political boost for the good of the service."

"But how does your administration get over the Civil Service?" Darst asked.

"I donít know. You are (out), and the other fellow is in. See?"

Darst insisted that he could not be discharged without a reason. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, which decided that he should be fired because of "a tendency leading to the breach of the peace."

The star witness was Kipley himself. After hearing his "most damaging" testimony, the Tribune wrote, "The question was raised whether he did not lay himself open to a charge of perjury."

The talkative police chief did not need to be prodded into making damaging statements.

The first part of his testimony concerned a "book scheme," which critics described as an effort by the police to shake down business owners.

The scheme had its roots in early 1897, when Policemenís Benevolent Association treasurer Billy Dollard had come to Kipley for help because of his association's financial problems. The association had lost $12,000 because of the Dreyer bank failure, and Dollard suggested holding two or three "sparring matches" to raise some money. "We went upstairs to talk with the mayor about it, and the mayor did not approve of the idea, did not think it was proper for policemen to be mixed up in sparring matches," Kipley testified.

Looking for other ways to raise money, Kipley talked with Walter Magnus, a Democratic central committeeman who had been appointed as a bailiff at the East Chicago Avenue police station. Kipley suggested publishing a book about the police and giving the proceeds from book sales to the Policemenís Benevolent Association. "I did not want the police department to have anything to do with the book arrangements at all," Kipley said.

Magnus raised $7,100 from subscribers to pay for the cost of publishing the book, including money from railroad companies. Kipley said he saw nothing wrong with police officers soliciting money from businesses for the book.

"All those big corporations are being enormously benefited by the efforts of the police department, and if they are solicited to make a little contribution of that sort, there is nothing particularly wrong in it," he said.

Kipley said he had and 742 other officers had been fired two years ago, apparently because of their political persuasions. "Somebody said I was a Democrat, and I was let go," he said.

Asked why he had recently fired 400 officers, Kipley said it was "for the same reasons that I went off."

He was asked, "There was a suspicion that they were Republicans?"

"Yes," he replied, "that there was something wrong with them." But a moment later, he added, "Donít say anything about politics at all, I donít like to talk politics. It always gives me a pain."

Kipley denied knowing anything about "poolrooms" ó illegal betting establishments ó operating in Chicago with the implied consent of the police. However, he then acknowledged that his own brother, Detective Henry Kipley, was rumored to be a frequenter of poolrooms.

"I said to him that it had been reported to me that he had been around these places, and I told him he had better save his money and keep away from these poolrooms," Kipley said. "It had been intimated to me that he had got to be quite an enthusiastic bettor on horse races, and I told him to keep away from those places and save his money, and I tried to use my influence in getting him to stop."

"Did he take your advice?"

"Well, that is very difficult for me to say. I donít know. When you get a man who has a notion for doing anything of that kind it is hard for anyone to control him."

"What did he say when you called him down?"

"He said he was not doing anything wrong ó only went in there for the purpose of making a few little bets once in a while. I told him it was a violation of the law, and such things of that sort would not be tolerated, and that he was violating his oath of office by going into such placesÖ"

Kipley acknowledged that his department hadnít prosecuted any poolrooms. "I am powerless to stop a man from making hand-books or selling pools confidentially to his friends," he said.

One of the senators asked Kipley about an order he had issued that all gambling games should be held south of Jackson Street. "What have you got against the people south of Jackson Street?" the senator asked.

"I like them," Kipley said. "The object was to liven things up a bit."

The Senate committee reported the police were allowing gambling to take place in establishments at 6 Plymouth Place, 17 Plymouth Place, 311 Clark Street, 256 Clark Street and 430 State Street. Each of these "poolrooms" was on a well-traveled public street. Hundreds of people went through the doors each day in plain view of police officers patrolling the streets, and yet they did nothing to stop the gambling. (Click here to read a description of a typical Chicago poolroom.)

"The evidence further shows that ... policemen were in there, and, in many instances, indulged in the game," the report stated. The police chief's brother had been at all of these places and many others, seen "behind the counter, keeping tab of the amount of money received and paid out with the cashiers of those gambling institutions."

The Senate also accused the Chicago police of allowing opium dens to stay open.

"The evidence... shows that there were more hold-ups and robberies, more violations of the law on the streets of Chicago, during the past six months, possibly, than ever in the city of Chicago in the same length of time," the report asserted. "It is not strange, however, that when the ordinary policeman can see that gambling and many other forms of vice are winked at other violations of law and have less respect for the enforcement of the law than he would otherwise."

Mayor Harrison ordered the police to return any money that had been pledged in the book scheme. "Down in the Levee district Ö those who subscribed for the book declare they were plainly given to understand it would be to their advantage to do so," the Tribune reported, referring to Chicago's vice area.

Tired of the fight over the civil service law, Adolph Kraus resigned as president of the Civil Service Commission on February 13, 1898. The following month, Kraus and his fellow commissioners, Dudley Winston and Hempstead Washburne,  were indicted by the grand jury for violating the civil service law.

"Reputable men," Mayor Harrison said, "are indicted on the charges of disgruntled office seekers."

The commissioners were tried and acquitted.

© 2003 by Robert Loerzel.

Picture of Kipley: Chicago Journal, Nov. 4, 1897.

Raphael W. Marrow and Harriet I. Carter, In Pursuit of Crime. The Police of Chicago: Chronicle of a Hundred Years, 1833-1933 (Sunbury, Ohio: The Flats Publishing Company, 1996), 252-253, 255.
Senate Report on the Chicago Police System as made by the Committee of Investigation Appointed by the 40th General Assembly, Special Session 1897-98. Adopted by the Senate Feb. 17, 1898. (Springfield, Illinois: Phillips Bros., State Printers, 1898), 7-9, 11, 13, 14, 15-17.
Chicago Tribune, April 26, May 2, June 20, July 12, Aug. 13, Oct. 23, 27 and 29, Nov. 2, 1897; Jan. 7, 9, 14, 28 and 30, Feb. 7 and 24, March 6 and 11, 1898.
Chicago Chronicle, Jan. 24 and Feb. 13, 1898.
Chicago Inter Ocean, Oct. 5, Nov. 7 and Dec. 31, 1897; Jan. 12, 14 and Jan. 27, 1898.
Chicago Times-Herald, Sept. 19, 1897.
Chicago Record, Oct. 1, 1897.
Chicago Journal, Oct. 28, Nov. 4 and 5, 1897.
Chicago Dispatch, Nov. 26, 1897.
Chicago Daily News, Dec. 10, 1897.