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LA City Archive: The LAPD's 'Police Bulletin' opens window on policing 60+ years ago

A copy of of the LAPD's Daily Police Bulletin
A copy of of the LAPD's Daily Police Bulletin
Los Angeles Police Museum

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LA City Archivist Michael Holland writes for Alive!, the city employee paper, and shares his columns on the treasures from the archive with Off-Ramp. Most recently, he told us about Mayor Fletcher Bowron's role as a cheerleader for the Japanese-American internment.

The beginning of the work day for a police officer hasn’t changed over time. Roll call was where he found out what he had missed and what was important to know during his shift. And it’s where he’d pick up a copy of the daily Police Bulletin. In the city archive, we have copies of almost every bulletin issued from 1907 through 1949.

Besides the mug shot and description of a wanted person…

Runaway boy, Robert J. Rutherford, American, 15 years, 5-foot 6-inches, 130pounds, brown eyes, fair complexion. Wore khaki coat, corduroy pants, army shoes and tweed cap. When last seen was riding a Black Beauty bicycle.

There would useful information about educational opportunities for officers:

Police school instruction. Wednesday August 23 at 2pm “Pickpockets and their Habits” by Detective Sergeant Thomas O'Brien.

File: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles.
File: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

And also not so subtle pronouncements from the Chief of Police about personal and professional conduct (make sure to listen to the audio - LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reads this one for us!):

Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Living in a state of adultery during the last 12 months. Smoking while in uniform, entering pool rooms in uniform when not on duty, remaining seated in streetcars while pay passengers are standing, are things that bring discredit to the uniform.

Streetcar at Broadway and 7th Street c. 1957.
Streetcar at Broadway and 7th Street c. 1957.
Metro Library and Archive

Heroic actions and tributes to fallen officers:

I witnessed yesterday one of your traffic officers risk his life to save that of an elderly lady by running in front of a streetcar and lifting this woman out of the way. She would have been crushed to death. I must say that men like this deserve great credit for such noble deeds.

It’s really amazing that they have survived at all. They were printed on cheap thin paper intended for that day’s use and thrown away. Our collection of bound volumes have allowed them to be viewable more than a century after they were printed. The “paper policeman” according to one annual report, consisted of 645 copies per day and were distributed locally to public officials. Police chiefs and sheriffs in other parts of the country were sent complete packages twice a week.

A car with bullet holes from October 10, 1942
A car with bullet holes from October 10, 1942
LAPD/Courtesy of Fototeka Los Angeles

So, how would the cop on the beat use the bulletin? Let’s say he came upon a reported stolen car. The typical 1922 stolen car would be described with the following information:

Ford touring, 1921 model, license #399-709, motor #4557-877, Goodrich tires, black body, gear and wheels.

In those days, the individual auto parts such as the speedometer and the battery would be listed by name or model. Imagine trying to describe your own car with more than a make and model today. What brand of battery do YOU have?

One of the things that a beat cop was supposed to know was whether any of the businesses in his territory were up to no good. The Police Commission was in charge of issuing or revoking licenses to pawnshops, bars and a host of merchants. The bulletins regularly asked the officers, "Do you know of any reason why a permit should not be issued to any of them?"

The bulletins almost always carried a photo of a runaway juvenile or someone’s missing spouse. The serial nature of the bulletins sometimes revealed a safe return a few issues later – but not always. But someone wrote me recently that they had googled a missing teenager featured on a bulletin. The runaway shown in 1922 had served in the Second World War and had been a model citizen and had died only recently. Was it the same kid from the bulletin? We’ll never know .