Department of Records - City of Philadelphia

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From the Newsletter of the Philadelphia City Archives, Number 47 (October 1982)


by Ward J. Childs

In the last issue of the Newsletter we may seem to have spent an inordinate amount of space on the Police Annual Report. We have done so because the Annual Report is the one reasonably continuous record series of the Police that we have for the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, and, hence, it is indispensable for anyone doing research on crime. However, we also hold a number of records series of manuscript Police records for this period which are valuable for what they tell us about Police procedures for collecting identifying information about criminals and compiling statistics. One of these, the Detective Division's Register of Descriptions of Criminals, which we hold for the periods July 1892 - January 1897 and September 1902 - November 1907, was probably one of the first records in which the Police registered suspects after they came into their custody. In these Registers the Police listed the suspect's name and aliases, age, color, place of birth, residence, occupation and date of arrest. The Police also described the suspect's height, weight, type of build; and color of complexion, hair, eyes, beard and mustache; and noted, in profuse detail, characteristics of moles, scars, tattoos and other marks. For example, Herman W. Mudgett or H.H. Holmes, the notorious mass murderer, who was later hanged at Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896, was entered in this record after his arrest on November 17, 1894 for conspiracy and the murder of Benjamin F. Pitezel. The entry in the Register of Descriptions of Criminals reveals that Mudgett, who was arrested under the alias of H.H. Holmes also used the aliases of H.M. Howard, Alex E. Bond and Horace H. Williams. The Register reveals that he was a physician and druggist, who was born in Germantown, New Hampshire and living in Chicago, Illinois, and describes him as white, 34 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches in height and 148 pounds in weight with a medium build, slate blue eyes, dark complexion, scars on the first joint left thumb, above first joint left index, below second joint right index; a small pimple in front of left ear on cheek, a small mole on right cheek, small scars on forehead and scar on top of the head. However, even so detailed a verbal description would not have been sufficient for the purpose of identification by the Police. The Police also probably photographed Herman W. Mudgett for their rogues' gallery which had been introduced into the Detective Department in 1859; and measured his body according to the Bertillion system of measurement, which the Police had adopted on July 16, 1892. ( If he had committed his crime just eleven years later, Mudgett also would have been fingerprinted at this time.)

Interest of the Police in a suspect did not cease when the suspect was apprehended and held for trial and when his description was registered. The Police also followed the defendant's trial to determine the disposition of his case. One detective was assigned to appear each day in the Court of Quarter Sessions and to report the disposition of each criminal case that came before the Court. The detective would note the dates of trial, the name of the presiding judge, the defendant's name and aliases, the charge, place of arrest, names of arresting officers, notes of whether found guilty or discharged and the sentence. In the case of Herman W. Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes the Court Disposition of Arrest entry by Detective H.T. Stanwood, reveals Mudgett was tried before Judge Arnold on October 28, 29, and 30 of 1895 for the murder of Benjamin F. Pritezel on September 2, 1894 at 1316 Callowhill Street, that he had been arrested in Boston, Massachusetts by Detective Crawford and Guyer, and that he was found guilty of murder in the first degree on November 2. This practice of making an official record of the Court's dispositions of suspects' arrests was continued by the Police at least to the late 1930s since one volume of our Record Series includes entries as late as March 1938. Similar information also seems to have been entered by the Detective Division in the Record Series called the "Criminal Court Record," of which the City Archives holds one volume dating from July 2, 1912 to May 15, 1918. This may have been a record series to which the information from the Court Dispositions of Arrests was transferred. Its entries list the accused's name, age, race, nationality and residence; the name, badge number and police district of arresting officer; place and time of arrest, charge, date of trial, name of presiding judge, sentence and the name of the institution to which the defendant was sentenced.

These early police records, of course, are but a small part of the manuscript police records in the custody of the City Archives which include information pertaining to criminals. Some of these remaining records are contemporary with those already discussed. For example, the Warrant Book, of which we hold one volume for the period, April 8, 1916 to December 31, 1925, is the first record in which the Philadelphia Police would enter information concerning a suspect after a magistrate or judge issued a warrant for his or her arrest. In the Warrant Book the Police would note the date of the warrant, warrant number, name and aliases of the accused and his address, charge, name of judge who issued the warrant, name and address of the complainant, badge number of the officer who served the warrant, disposition of the case and date of the warrant's return. Other examples are the Police Letter Books, March 1910 - August 1913, which included lists of arrested cocaine users; and Clipping Books, 1916, which include clippings concerning a crusade against vice in the City's tenderloin. However, most of the remaining records cover the periods, 1928 - 1939 and 1953 - 1970. Like other police records these may be classified into records of specific Police divisions or districts and records pertaining to investigation throughout the whole City.

The North Central Police Division, which includes the 22nd and 23rd Police Districts, is the only individual Police administrative unit of which the City Archives holds a considerable number of records. Moreover, these records cover only one year, 1964. However, the records of this Police Division for this single year are sufficient to provide an in-depth view of police activities in the prevention of crime and arrest of criminals. One of these activities is surveillance undertaken to collect information about professional criminals. In 1964 officers of the North Central Police Division were engaged in a monthly surveillance of suspected vice figures in order to evaluate vice conditions in the 23rd Police District. The monthly reports filed concerning this surveillance list the type of suspected illegal activity, the name of the suspect under surveillance, names of known criminal associates, type and area of operations, and period of surveillance. Another method of collecting such information is by questioning suspects at the time of arrest. The information obtained by this method is then described in an intelligence summary which included the suspect's name, sex, race, date and place of birth, physical description, marital status, occupation, employer and employer's address, social security number, service in armed forces, education, parent's nativities, foreign languages known, previous criminal record, if any; suspect's chief criminal activity, and a list of his criminal associates. If surveillance reveals sufficient grounds for the search of a premises the officer filed an application for a search warrant listing premises to be searched, grounds for obtaining the warrant, materials sought, dates of surveillance and date of warrant. All these items may be found in the Division's Administrative Files.

Most police investigations, of course, originate with a complaint, like those found in the North Central Division's Complaint and Assignments Journal which includes the date, complaint number, complainant's name and address, nature of complaint, place of occurrence, and investigator assigned. In cases of burglary and robbery, similar entries were also made in Burglary and Robbery Investigation Reports as well as entries of results of interviews and interrogations, statements, and of action taken (e.g. description of property stolen or of persons wanted ). When a complaint resulted in the arrest of a suspect, the Police were obliged, under the Act of the General Assembly approved April 9, 1915 to supply the suspect with a copy of the charge in order to protect the suspect's rights and facilitate the entry of bail. Entered on the Service Copy of Charge are the defendant's name, age, address; the charge, location of arrest, name of arresting officer, other charges against the defendant, the date scheduled for appearance before the magistrate, name and address of person to whom defendant was released, and amount of bail. The name of a suspect cleared of charges was listed on the Division's Daily Clearance Lists with the name of the arresting officer and the reason the charge was cleared.

Most of our later Police records pertain to investigations and arrests throughout the whole City. Some are records of Police activities against a variety of crimes. Others reflect activity against a specific crime or of specific Police Units. The Arrest Register for the period, 1939 1967, is an example of the first of these categories. It includes entries for offences as varied as vagrancy and robbery. Entries fist the suspect's arrest or complaint number, name, age, race, sex, birthplace, marital status, residence, and whether suspect was a naturalized citizen; the nationality of the suspect's parents; date, time and place of arrest; name of arresting officer, charge, magistrate conducting hearing, date of further hearing, disposition of magistrate, description of property seized and signature for property, dates of grand jury and court actions, verdict and sentence. Somewhat similar information may also be found in arrest registers of specific Police units. During Prohibition the Registers of Arrests of Headquarters Detail #2, February 1928 January 1929; and of Special Squad #1, February 1928- August 1933 were filled with such information about persons arrested for illegal sale or possession of liquor. Information about persons arrested for frequenting gambling or bawdy houses, maintaining illegal horse race pools or lotteries and similar crimes may be found in the Vice Squad Register of Arrests, May 1930 - February 1933 and June - December 1939. Arrests for vice and for other major crimes may also be found in the Arrest Register of the Special Investigation Squad (SIS), 1954-1961. Complementing the SIS's Arrest Register are its Case Files 1958,1960 - 1962, 1964 - 1965 which include much of the same information but amplify it with copies of investigation, arrest end complaint or incident reports; copies of search warrants, photographs and fingerprints of suspects; photographs and laboratory analyses of evidence, interview and interrogation summaries, and copies of witnesses' and prisoners' statements.

The Robbery Journal, 1953-1965, which includes larceny-by-trick complaints for the period, 1954-1964, is an example of a Police record which pertains to a specific type of crime. When a detective interviews a victim of a robbery at gunpoint or of larceny by such quaintly named tricks as the pigeon drop, handkerchief switch, the mudkicker or banjo game, his intention is to secure any information that will aid in identifying the criminal or items taken. This information is entered in the Robbery Journal. In it may be found the date and time of the crime, the name and address of the victim, the robber's description and his method of operation, description of the property taken and the date of arrest.

Records that reflect the activities of specific Police Units include the Juvenile Aid Bureau's Case Records, 1952-1958; Juvenile Aid Division's Administrative Files, 1965-1967; and Offense Investigation Reports, 1966-1967; and the Labor Unit's and Community Relations Unit's Files for the respective periods of 1967 and 1963-1968. Of these Units, the Juvenile Aid Bureau and the Juvenile Aid Division are names of the same Police Unit in different periods of its existence. This Police Unit was organized in 1932 as the Crime Prevention Division and continued to bear that name until 1950 when it became the Juvenile Division. Circa 1952-1953, the Unit was renamed the Juvenile Aid Bureau and in the late 1950's received its present name of Juvenile Aid Division. The purpose of this Police Unit is to develop techniques for the prevention of delinquency among juveniles and to investigate offenses involving juveniles. The Juvenile Aid Bureau's Case Records and the Juvenile Aid Division's Offense Investigation Reports and Administrative Files reflect the means toward obtaining these objectives. The Bureau's Case Records and Division's Offense Investigation Reports are both records of contacts with juveniles and, generally, include such information as the reason for the contact, a description of the juvenile, reports of interviews and interrogations, remarks, and an indication of action taken. However, the resemblance between the two Record Series ends with these generalities. The Case Records of the Juvenile Aid Bureau have very much the character of a social worker's report; the Investigation Reports of the Juvenile Aid Division could not be mistaken for anything but a police record. The Case Records include day-to-day entries as juvenile officers interviewed juveniles, parents, neighbors and school officials; and copies of correspondence with parents and juveniles. Very often these files also contain a record of Police contacts with the juvenile and referral reports to social service agencies. These items in each Case Record provide a great deal of information concerning each juvenile's home, school and social situation; and impress us with the dedication of juvenile officers who do so much to keep kids out of serious trouble. In contrast, the Offense Investigation Reports pertain to an arrest of a juvenile for a specific offense, and zero in on the circumstances surrounding the arrest. These Reports are usually one or two pages in length and include the original nature of the complaint; synopses of statements by the offender and witnesses and parents of offender; and the statement of action taken by the juvenile officer. The only background information included in these Reports pertains to the offense for which the juvenile was arrested or the juvenile's previous arrest record. In addition to the Juvenile Aid Bureau's Case Records and the Juvenile Aid Division's Offense Investigation Reports, the City Archives also hold the Administrative Files of the Juvenile Aid Division for the period, 1965-1967, which provide us with tangible evidence of the scope of the problem of juvenile delinquency in Philadelphia. The Administrative Files include daily complaint summaries, daily and weekly activity reports, major gang incident reports, crime statistics, reports of curfew violations and truancy, files concerning vacant property offenses, copies of background investigation reports on juvenile offenders, vice case statistics, reports of vandalism, reports of investigations of narcotic violations by juveniles arrested and released to parents.

Of the remaining Police units the Labor and Community Relations Units both engage in activities that contribute to crime prevention. The Labor Unit investigates labor disputes to determine cause and the need for uniformed police to prevent violence or the destruction of property. The origin of the investigation, synopses of interviews with spokesman for management or labor, the action taken by the Police, and remarks are entered in investigation of Labor Dispute forms included in the Archives' Police Labor Unit Files, 1967. These Files also include strike statistics and Notices of Termination of Labor Dispute forms. The crime prevention activities of the Community Relations Unit consists of distributing brochures advising citizens how to avoid being a victim of crime and what to do if a crime occurs and by providing information to various community groups. However, this is just one aspect of this Unit's mission of winning the goodwill and confidence of the public through a better understanding of each other's problems and viewpoints. Equally important is the Unit's investigation of charges against the Police for harassment, brutality or illegal arrest. Information collected in these investigations is included in the Community Relations Unit Files, 1963-1968, in the City Archives. Each investigation file forwarded to the Police Commissioner contains statements of officers against whom charges were made, a Police Advisory Board Complaint Record, copies of search warrants, arrest records and investigation reports involved in the complaint; and an extract of the complainant's previous criminal record.

Our survey of the records of the City Archives, which pertain to crime is now completed. It would be an understatement for me to state that crime is big business. This is obvious to anyone reading the daily newspaper. However, the public is less aware of the enormous volume of records generated by the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of criminals. This is a big business too. I hope that this and the four preceding articles in the Newsletter have made our readers aware of our rich deposit of source material available for the study of the criminal justice system. I also hope they will take advantage of it.

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