• U.S.

The Press: I Was the Law

3 minute read

One night last week a hefty (6 ft., 200 Ibs. ) Cleveland patrolman named Henry Gordon paid a surprise call at the home of Police Chief Frank Story, and turned in his badge. Next day the whole town shared the surprise. Cried Scripps-Howard’s Cleveland Press across eight columns: PRESS WRITER BARES SECRET, WAS POLICEMAN SIX MONTHS. Crowed Editor Louis B. Seltzer, whose Press covers Cleveland like a mother hen : “This is the first time that any paper in the country has obtained the inside story of the workings of a police department by assigning a writer to the job of actual police work.” Seamy Underside. It was also one of the most strenuous reportorial masquer ades since the New York World’s Nellie Bly feigned madness for ten days in the lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island. On Seltzer’s instructions, Assistant Picture Editor Gordon, 25 and an exMarine, took the police civil-service test a year ago, quietly “quit” the Press last January to enter the police academy and begin a life of “applied schizophrenia.” In re peated close calls, he managed to avoid acquaintances on the street, at a theater, in a restaurant. Off duty, he labored over a diary that grew to 600 type written pages. He graduated in the top ten (of 92) from the three-month course for rookies. Then, as he wrote last week in the lead of “Badge 384.” his front-page series: “I was the law in the rawest, meanest, toughest police district in Cleveland.”

Cops gulped as they read: “I saw the seamy underside of the police department . . . I got to know policemen who drank on duty, loafed on duty . . . I saw how saloonkeepers get parking tickets fixed . . . I heard my fellow policemen boast openly of freeloading on liquor and food —’living on the badge’ they called it . . . Time and again I heard the smart-alec patrolman brag about his ‘take,’ repeating his motto: ‘Never take a cigar that ain’t wrapped in green.’ ”

No Snitching. But Gordon also reported that “the big majority are brave and dedicated and underpaid,” ‘and the Press announced that his rookie’s take-home pay of $1,740.16 would go to the police pension fund. Promised Gordon: “Six months didn’t make me a veteran copper. But I’ve been one long enough to know I’m not going to snitch on any of them. I’m going to cross up dates and places whenever true identities might hurt somebody. I’m going to tell all the story. But I’m not going to make a spy’s report.”

Over the Teletype to all police stations, Chief Story told the force: “I have no criticism of the articles . . . I welcome any information which would uncover any wrongdoing.” To another reporter he said: “There is nothing intrinsically wrong in our department. Gordon hasn’t divulged anything of consequence.” Indeed, the generalizations of the early articles added up to less than the “revelation” promised by Editor Seltzer. But Seltzer felt sure that the series would give the Press a strong weapon in a campaign to change Ohio legislation that ties the hands of mayors and police chiefs against “entrenched practices” among the police. Gordon, whose previous reporting was limited to real estate, basked in his sudden celebrity. A sumptuous brunette, he said, recognized him from his pictures as he rode home on a rapid-transit car, and, leaning over, her mouth close to his ear, whispered: “Hello, Badge 384.”

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