November 2009

50: Badges

  • <h1>Chinese Massacre, 1871</h1>Nineteen Chinese people are murdered by a mob of more than 500 L.A. citizens in Chinatown after an elderly white man is killed in the crossfire between two rival Chinese gangs. The police are able to protect only a few and are reproached for their ineffectiveness. The incident spurs law-enforcement improvements.
  • <h1>Tiburcio Vásquez, 1875</h1>Los Angeles Sheriff William R. Rowland arrests Vásquez, the charming and handsome leader of a notorious gang of thieves, for his involvement in the murders of several people. Despite public sympathy for the popular bandit, Vásquez is hanged on March 19.
  • <h1>Capt. Emil Harris, 1877<br/></h1>Appointed the first Jewish police chief in Los Angeles after his leadership in the Chinese Massacre of 1871, Harris is later hired as the mayor’s detective.
  • <h1>Walter H. Auble, 1887<br/></h1>Auble serves as interim police chief for one year and then resumes his duties as captain of detectives. In 1906, he becomes the third and highest ranking officer killed in the line of duty when a burglary suspect shoots him.
  • <h1>Griffith J. Griffith, 1903</h1>Griffith is charged for attempting to murder his wife and serves two years in San Quentin. He tries to donate money to the city of Los Angeles, but the funds are not accepted until after his death. The money is used to build Griffith Park Observatory and the Greek Theatre.
  • <h1><em>L.A. Times</em> Building Bombed, 1910</h1>After a series of explosions in the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> building, 115 people are trapped in the resulting inferno, and 21 people die. Harrison Gray Otis, the owner of the <em>Times</em>, suspects labor activists and anarchists are responsible.
  • <h1>Alice Wells, First Policewoman<br/></h1>In 1910, Wells becomes the nation’s first policewoman with arrest powers and is issued a regular policeman’s badge, with the police chief saying he is “sorry to offer a woman so plain an insignia of office” instead of “a star edged with lace ruffles.” Officers are able to ride the trolley for free, but when Wells presents her badge, the conductor accuses her of stealing it from her husband. The department issues Wells a new badge, engraved “Policewoman 1.”
  • <h1>Fatty Arbuckle, 1921</h1>Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a popular comic actor, is accused of raping and fatally injuring actress Virginia Rappe. He stands trial three times and is finally acquitted of all charges, but the negative media circus virtually ends his career.
  • <h1>Alexander Pantages, 1929</h1>Theater tycoon Pantages is accused of rape by vaudeville performer Eunice Pringle and sentenced to 50 years without parole. A judicial precedent is set when the Supreme Court orders a new trial and allows the alleged victim’s character to be put on trial. He is ultimately acquitted.
  • <h1>Pedro Gonzalez, 1934</h1>Fifteen-year-old Dora Versus testifies she was raped by Gonzalez, a radio personality and singer who publicly opposes the unjust deportation of Mexican-Americans in the southwest U.S. She later admits that two police officers forced her to lie, but Gonzalez still serves six years in prison and is later deported.
  • <h1>Sgt. Earle J. Kynette, 1937<br/></h1>Clifford E. Clinton of Clifton’s Cafeteria downtown hires Harry Raymond, a private investigator, to expose the crooked politics of Mayor Frank Shaw. Kynette, serving as the acting captain of intelligence for the LAPD, plants bombs in Raymond’s car and in Clinton’s house. Kynette is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, assault with intent to commit murder and malicious use of explosives. Shaw is the first mayor to be recalled.
  • <h1>“Sleepy Lagoon” Mystery, 1942</h1>The body of José Diaz is found at a reservoir on August 2, 1942. As a result, 300 Mexican American youths are arrested. Without evidence, 12 defendants are convicted of murder and five are convicted of assault. In 1944, the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee and the U.S. District Court of Appeals overturns the convictions.
  • <h1>Sgt. “Joe Friday,” <em>Dragnet</em>, 1951</h1>When the <i>Dragnet</i> series is being developed, a badge is needed. The show’s technical advisor goes to the LAPD’s personnel division to get a sergeant’s badge for Friday, played by actor Jack Webb. A badge is created just for the seminal role.
  • <h1>Mickey Cohen, 1959</h1>The most visible mobster in Los Angeles, Cohen and his cohorts, called the “Seven Dwarfs,” are prosecuted in 1961 in the conspiracy to murder contract killer Jack Whalen, who was gunned down at Rondelli’s Restaurant in Sherman Oaks.  Although Cohen’s trial ends in a hung jury, he spends a decade in prison for tax evasion.
  • <h1>Det. George W. Stockley, Retirement Badge, 1960</h1>On January 15, 1947, a nude body cut entirely in half was found in Leimert Park and later identified as Elizabeth “Betty” Short, an aspiring actress known as the Black Dahlia. Detective Stockley was a key figure in the investigation. Eventually, police suspicions fell on Jack Anderson Wilson, but before they could pursue the case, Wilson burned to death in a hotel fire caused by his cigarette.
  • <h1>Watts Riots, 1965</h1>Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, California creates Proposition 14, which aims to block the fair-housing section of the act. On August 11, a police officer pulls over Marquette Frye for suspicion of drunk driving. A crowd soon forms around the officer, and a riot ensues that lasts six days, killing 34 people, injuring more than 1,000 and causing an estimated $50 million–$100 million in damages.
  • <h1>Manson Family Murders, 1969</h1>Charles Manson and his followers—known as the Manson Family—break into the home of auteur Roman Polanski and murder his wife, Sharon Tate, who is eight and a half months pregnant. Also murdered are coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and filmmaker Wojciech Frykowski. The Family is later arrested in Chatsworth at the Spahn Ranch, an old western back lot that is their home.
  • <h1>Lionel Ray Williams, 1976</h1>Williams, a pizza deliveryman and professional criminal, murders Sal Mineo one evening after the actor returns home from rehearsals for <i>P.S. Your Cat Is Dead</i>. Williams’ wife tells the police her husband came home in a shirt covered with blood, claiming he had killed a “Hollywood dude.” Williams is charged with second-degree murder and ten counts of robbery and sentenced to 51 years in prison.
  • <h1>The Notorious B.I.G., 1997</h1>“Biggy Smalls” is shot in front of the Peterson Automotive Museum, after leaving a music-industry party. He is later pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His album, which is scheduled for release two weeks after his death, is ironically titled <i>Life After Death</i>.
  • <h1>George Neville Rucker, 2002</h1>Rucker, 82, a former priest in the archdiocese of Los Angeles, is arrested on 16 counts of child molestation—just five months after he is removed from the ministry. His crimes occur from 1947 to 1979.
  • <h1>Chief William Bratton, 2009<br/></h1>Bratton is appointed Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in October 2002. After six years in office, Bratton has reduced crime to historic lows. In 2009, Bratton announces his plan to resign and take over as head of a private security firm in New York.

It was my grandfather George W. Stockley, a homicide detective from 1945 to 1960, who sparked my interest in the chronology of our city’s badges. He worked on such historic cases as the Black Dahlia murder. So, in a tip of the hat to the new Police Administration Building across the street from LA’s downtown offices, here’s a retrospective of the ever-evolving insignia worn by the city’s finest since the inception of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1869, including backstory on who wore some of the badges and highlights of their careers, as well as notable events in the annals of L.A. crime.

Special thanks to Keith Bushey, the LAPD Historic Society and Cornel Panov for sharing their collections

Additional research by A. Moret and Michelle Miranda